Controls, Products + Technology

Street Lighting Control Systems: Exploring Advantages, Disadvantages, and Choosing the Right Approach


By Maria Bragina, General Manager, Sundrax Electronics

Street lighting plays a crucial role in enhancing urban safety and aesthetics. The methods used to control street lighting have evolved significantly over time, from manual systems to sophisticated electronic control mechanisms. In this article, we will delve into the historical evolution of street lighting control, focusing on two primary methods: group (segmented) control and individual control. By understanding the advantages and disadvantages of each method, cities and municipalities can make informed decisions about the most suitable approach for their street lighting infrastructure.

Historical Evolution of Street Lighting Control: Street lighting control systems have come a long way since the era of torches and candles. The evolution can be categorized into distinct phases, each marked by technological advancements:

  • Early Manual Systems: Initially, lighting control was manual, limited to the manual lighting and extinguishing of light sources such as torches, candles, and oil lamps.
  • Gas Lamps and Electrical Systems: In the 19th century, gas lamps were introduced, allowing for manual control. The advent of electricity led to the development of electric lighting systems, accompanied by the introduction of switches for convenient centralized control.
  • Emergence of Electronic Control: With advancements in electronics in the mid-20th century, more complex lighting control systems emerged. The key innovation was the introduction of the photo relay, a light-sensitive device that automatically turned street lighting on or off based on ambient light levels.

Distinction Between Group and Individual Control: The introduction of photo relays marked a significant milestone in street lighting control. For the first time, a clear distinction emerged between group (segmented) control and individual control methods:

  • Group Control with Photo Relays: In Europe, photo relays were installed on groups of lamps, enabling segmental control. This approach allowed for efficient management of street lighting based on the collective light requirements of specific areas.
  • Individual Control in the USA: In the USA, due to infrastructure differences and specific street lighting specifications, photo relays were installed on each lamp individually. This individual control method offered precise control but required more intricate installation and management.

Challenges and Innovations in Street Lighting Control: As technology advanced, challenges associated with photo relays, such as false activations due to dirt or other light sources, became apparent. To address these challenges, innovations like time relays and timers were introduced. For instance, the lighting system implemented in the Eiffel Tower in 1889 used mechanical timers for automated on/off control, showcasing an early example of group control based on time relays.

Group vs. Individual Control in Modern Street Lighting Systems

Group Control: Modern group lighting control systems offer an efficient way to manage street lighting. These controllers, installed in lighting control cabinets, handle multiple starters, turning on or off specific lighting groups. Equipped with diagnostic functions and linked to electricity meters, they integrate seamlessly into electricity accounting systems and facilitate lighting line diagnoses.


  • Scheduled Control: Lights can be programmed to turn on and off according to specific schedules, promoting energy savings.
  • Group Division: Lights can be segmented into groups, allowing partial deactivation at night, further enhancing energy efficiency.
  • Diagnostic Capabilities: While pinpointing individual faulty fixtures might be challenging, the system can precisely locate malfunctioning groups, aiding swift repairs.
  • Quick Installation: Controllers can be installed without replacing existing lighting fixtures, reducing implementation time and costs.
  • Cost-Effectiveness: This method is the most cost-effective in terms of both implementation and operational expenses.


  • Limited Precision: Identifying the exact malfunctioning fixture within a group is not possible.
  • Energy-Saving Constraints: Limited flexibility in energy-saving options, as individual regulation of each light fixture is not possible.
  • Reduced Daytime Potential: Lights are off during the day, diminishing their utility for infrastructure projects.

Applicability: This method is rarely applied in the US due to historical and infrastructure constraints.

Individual Control with GSM Node: In contrast, individual control systems feature separate controllers, like the GSM Node, installed on each light fixture, allowing independent governance of each light source.


  • Complete Control: Provides full control over individual light fixtures, enabling tailored lighting solutions.
  • Energy-Saving Options: Offers diverse energy-saving modes and interactive operation with various sensors, optimizing energy efficiency.
  • Flexibility: Allows for customization and adaptation to specific lighting requirements in different areas.


  • Implementation Costs: High implementation costs due to the need for individual controllers for each light fixture.
  • Complex Operation: Operating and maintaining numerous individual controllers can be intricate and expensive.
  • Replacement Requirement: Often applied during complete lighting installation replacements due to the complexity of retrofitting existing fixtures.

Conclusion: Considering the diversity of urban infrastructure and the varying pros and cons of each method, a flexible approach is recommended. Integrating both group and individual control methods in different parts of the city based on appropriateness can yield significant benefits. By strategically selecting the appropriate control method for specific locations, cities can achieve optimal energy efficiency, reduce operational costs, and enhance overall urban lighting quality. This integrated approach ensures a balance between precision and cost-effectiveness, contributing to the sustainable development of urban landscapes.

About The Author:

Maria Bragina is a general manager at Sundrax Electronics. She manages a team of electronic engineers, web developers and sales managers. Sundrax manufactures lighting control products for outdoor, entertainment, and architectural lighting. Developing street lighting control software and hardware to provide reliable energy-saving solutions for a sustainable future.



All Images: Sundrax Electronics


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