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Urbanova street light sensor

Air pollution measuring streetlights with Urbanova

You likely don’t notice them – but attached to three streetlights in and around the University District are small air quality sensors. In the coming months, the number of air monitors will increase to nine. The data collected from the current locations is fed to a local collaboration called Urbanova and a project called The Smart and Connected Streetlights Pilot. (photos courtesy of Avista Utilities)

Washington State University’s Laboratory for Atmospheric Research is among this collaboration and pilot project. They use the data to look at pollution trends and variations. By narrowing in on the 770 acres of the University District, researchers are hoping to gain more understanding about how pollution can vary on a smaller scale.

For example, how can air quality differ from one street to the next? Or why is there a small increase in pollution levels at a certain time? And, perhaps most importantly, what causes the variation and what does that mean to the city?

“The Smart and Connected Streetlights Pilot will help increase energy efficiency and public safety while also assessing the role of air quality in healthy cities,” according to Urbanova.

Similarly, Spokane Clean Air also uses a network of air quality monitors. The scope, however, is much greater. Spokane Clean Air’s data is used to provide daily air quality forecasts, to notify the community when air quality is approaching unhealthful levels, and to identify potential pollution problems and solutions in all of Spokane County.

Data collected by Spokane Clean Air is also used to ensure our area meets national, ambient air quality standards that are set by the U.S. EPA.

“While the air pollution sensors used in the Urbanova project are not as accurate as ours and cannot be used to measure compliance with federal air quality standards, they are much smaller and can be deployed at a wider variety of locations,” said Mark Rowe, Air Monitoring Section Manager at Spokane Clean Air.

Urbanova street light sensorUrbanova is still in the beginning stages of collecting air quality data, however, the ultimate goal is to create technological solutions to improve services and infrastructure for citizens and also address urban challenges. Once refined, these solutions can be replicated around the world.

By fine tuning these small, inexpensive air monitoring sensors, Urbanova has the potential to help cities create a more robust infrastructure and plan for population growth. When planning for growing cities, cost is often a large determining factor.

“The monitors used by Urbanova cost only a small fraction of the amount that Spokane Clean Air’s do and can therefore be used in larger quantities,” said Rowe. “That allows the Urbanova project to determine the spatial variability of air pollutants on a smaller scale than our monitoring network.”

The Urbanova partners include Avista, the City of Spokane, Itron, McKinstry, the University District and WSU.

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