Gradis lights smart cities

April 18, 2016

The product of a research project launched by KIC InnoEnergy, Polish start-up Gradis offers innovative street lighting services. Igor Wojnicki,  researcher at the AGH University of Science and Technology (Cracow), and co-founder of Gradis, explains how it works.

How does a researcher become the CEO of a start-up?

There are actually four of us who have taken the leap. It began in 2012, when we were involved in the “Alive & KICing” consortium (KIC InnoEnergy, AGH, Eandis, EDF, to name but a few) on energy in smart cities. Among other things, we had to validate lighting technologies operated by the Belgian electricity company Eandis, using our skills in artificial intelligence. As it happens, we were very pleasantly surprised by how simply and effectively we could work with all of the partners, under KIC InnoEnergy’s leadership. We were so happy with the outcomes of the work that we didn’t need much persuading to become entrepreneurs ourselves! Since then, KIC has given us tremendous support: not only financial, but also by giving us access to its network of contacts, which really generates business.

Can you pitch your concept?

We provide consulting services in street lighting for two main types of customer: investors (local authorities) and suppliers (lighting fixture manufacturers and electricity suppliers). We use our proprietary software, called PhoCa, to produce complex, extensive lighting installation designs. It helps us with the choice of luminaires, the layout plan, the orientation and type of light sources, etc. It also factors in the customer’s constraints, such as technical limitations (available electrical power, technical installation possibilities, engineering aspects, etc.), investment capacity, retrofit or partial re-use of existing facilities, etc. The ultimate objective is to propose the best design that meets the municipality’s objectives: usually energy savings, but also Total Cost of Ownership (TCOO), minimal maintenance, or the ability to adapt the lighting to outside circumstances (e.g. for events).

What sort of energy savings can we expect with your designs?

Bear in mind that street lighting costs a lot for local authorities: for a population of several hundred thousand, we’re looking at millions of euros per year! Take two extremes from our own experience. A city that didn’t want to reinvest in new equipment was able to reduce its electricity consumption by 6% simply by optimising intensity of its street lighting. One of our studies also showed that, by replacing all of the light sources by LEDs and fully optimising the design, the cost could be reduced by up to 55% (40 points by using LEDs and 15 points with design factors). We believe that design alone can generate savings of between 5% and 30%. And that’s just the beginning!

How so? Can you bring the cost down even further?

Yes. We are currently testing our next feature: dynamic control. This consists in controlling lighting in real time, based on outside factors such as natural luminosity and the number of people at the site. To do this, we can feed any sort of exogenous data into our system, such as traffic (via sensors underneath the road surface) or the number of pedestrians (via the number of mobile phones, data provided by operators). This type of granular control brings another 34 percentage points of energy savings within our reach. In all, we can reasonably hope to slash 70% off the energy bill by comparison with street lighting installed in the 2000s.

What is your business model?

For dynamic control, it is too early yet to tell you. But for lighting designs, we basically charge by the number of light points (and the number of different designs, of course). The prices depend heavily on the magnitude of the project, and hence of the city: say from €10,000 to €100,000. I’d like to point out that one of the advantages of our system is that it allows for small additional designs, for example if a street is changed, a new district is added, or accidents or natural disasters destroy parts of the facilities. We are even working on offering PhoCa on a SaaS basis (editor’s note: Software as a Service) so that our customers can use it themselves, mainly for these small-scale projects.

Is that why you are going to raise funds?

Yes, but that’s not the only reason. We also have to continue our R&D, mainly through pilot projects like the one we are conducting on dynamic control in partnership with GE Lighting (with whom we have been working since 2013). We are also going to beef up our sales teams across Europe to help as many cities as possible save energy!

Gradis in brief:

Founded: 2013

Staff: 8

Funding round in progress: €500,000 to €2 million

Awards: Finalist in the TBB 2015 (The Business Booster) Pitch Award

References : Municipalities in Poland and Hungary, GE Lighting, Schreder, Eandis.

An expert perspective

Janusz Mazur, Energy Efficiency Expert.

The Gradis team enjoys unique intellectual potential in addition to remaining open to a diverse range of ideas. Their universal algorithm for lighting optimization combines many fields of knowledge: IT, the Internet of Things (IoT), lighting standards, photometric calculations, market demands… Their dynamic street lighting concept and PhoCa software make it possible to realize incredible savings in comparison to standard designs. KIC InnoEnergy’s help is also an asset for Gradis: innovation, risk mitigation, support… all supply high added value to this very bold research into innovative solutions.