Yellowknife officials want to win a $5 million national technology prize and spend the money on a city-wide network of smart street lights.

The Smart Cities Challenge, run by the federal government’s infrastructure department, will give $5 million to the small city with the best pitch for how the money will be spent.

Yellowknife has till April 24 to finalize its bid. The City of Yellowknife, working with Ecology North and Northland Utilities, wants “smart lights” that reduce light pollution and could offer a range of other benefits.

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The groups held an open house for residents to give feedback on Tuesday.

Wi-fi hotspots

Mike Augé, the City’s manager of sustainability and solid waste, said the best idea dreamed up so far involves “making lamp-posts a beacon for sustainability” across Yellowknife.

“There are a lot of different apps and technologies that can be incorporated into a lamp-post, that you’d never normally think of when you’re thinking of a lamp-post,” said Augé.

“You can put wi-fi hotspots around town. There’s a lot of tourism stuff you can do, like putting maps on them or hotspots with information. They’re talking about putting electric vehicle charging stations into the lamp-posts, and there’s not really a whole lot of electric vehicle charging infrastructure in town, right now.”

Read: Infrastructure Canada’s Smart Cities Challenge

One key selling point of the lamp-posts is their impact on light pollution and energy use.

A simple version of the “smart light” system is already being trialled in Lloydminster, Alberta.

“The street lights communicate wirelessly,” Amro Alansari, an engineer for energy company ATCO, told Cabin Radio. “Sensors pick up motion – pedestrians, vehicles, cyclists – and the light brightens up, then talks to the lights up the road, to tell them to illuminate.

“When no more motion is detected the lights will dim back down, with the bigger intent of reducing energy consumption.”

Aurora viewing

Ecology North’s Craig Scott said, even without additional functions like wi-fi or charging points, reducing the amount of light in the Yellowknife sky could make a big difference.

“We’re a northern city, fairly small and fairly dense, but we create this huge plume of light pollution,” said Scott.

“We have a huge aurora tourism business and it doesn’t make any sense that you can’t see the northern lights very clearly from the downtown, when we’re trying to market ourselves as the northern lights capital of the world.”

The $5 million prize has to be invested in some form of technological solution to challenges affecting the city.

Alansari said that kind of budget would provide Yellowknife with “decent coverage … and possibly multiple applications” in a system of smart street lights.

Any Canadian community with a population of fewer than 30,000 people can enter the lowest tier of the Smart Cities Challenge, where one $5 million prize will be awarded. Larger communities have the ability to bid for $10 million and $50 million prizes.