Chicago receives 40 responses in smart lighting RFI

The city hopes to bring in a private partner to take over and modernise its nearly 350,000-light system with energy efficient LED lights. 

The Chicago Infrastructure Trust-led request for information (RFI) over the potential use of a public-private partnership (PPP; P3) to modernise Chicago's massive street lighting network has drawn responses from 40 teams four months after its launch.

The RFI was initiated to identify potential private sector partners to retrofit some 348,000 outdoor lights across the city proper and the Chicago Park District with LED bulbs. The network includes all street lamps, stop lights and underpass lights. The upgrade would fulfill Mayor Rahm Emanuel's fourth sustainability goal by improving overall efficiency in municipal buildings by 10 percent.

Included in the fray are consortia such as a Siemens tie-up with Parsons Brinkerhoff, Star America, Plenary and Aldridge Electric; a Philips Lighting group backed by Citibank; a Chinese and Midwestern team dubbed Tarsier; and two teams – a BMO Team led by BMO Capital Markets and a ComEd team that includes the City of Chicago and GE Lighting – which rely on Silver Springs Networks, the firm selected to modernise the Regional Municipality of Halifax's 250,000-acre street lighting network.

The RFI explicitly invites ideas that integrate public goods and services that raise revenue or eliminate costs, including “technology such as wireless internet or emergency services applications”, according to the infrastructure trust. 

The presence of several telecom operators (Verizon, Ericsson and Convergence Wireless among them) along with computer networking giant Cisco suggests that many companies see the project as an opportunity to integrate Internet of Things elements and cellular mesh relays into the Chicago street light network. 

P3s are gaining momentum in the North American street lighting space, with Detroit having recently signed a contract with a BlackRock funds-backed team that was involved with Star America Infrastructure Partners. Other areas considering similar ideas include the city of Cleveland and the state of Arizona.