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Confronting challenges head on – my takeaways from the DLC Stakeholder Meeting

We live in fascinating times, where nothing feels static and everything feels open to change. The dynamic nature of digitalization is opening a universe of new possibilities, not for any one industry but for society at large. The driving force behind this larger change is shifting values created by connectivity. Connectivity is the means for achieving more efficient systems. While the larger promises of digitalization remain aspirational, implementing the technologies that deliver this value creates turbulence and unforeseen consequences. We are at the beginning of our journey to create a connected world. We will make it to our destination – but buckle up, it’s going to be a wild ride!

For the utility industry, the value shift brought on by connectivity will see energy efficiency programs evolve beyond incentivizing energy reduction. There are a variety of reasons for this value shift, from limitations of how we write and calculate energy codes to emerging lighting technologies that consume more energy and deliver additional value.  Ultimately, utility customers will come to value data as much, if not more than energy savings. How we begin to evolve our programs, codes, and products was an overarching theme of the recent DLC Stakeholder event in Portland, Oregon. Smart lighting systems are the products and platforms that will implement the change to an energy efficiency plus model.  Below are three major themes discussed that the conference. I’ve chosen to highlight these themes because they demonstrate the challenges and opportunities ahead as we move into a connected world.

Energy Codes

Are we moving to a post-energy code world? The answer is not anytime soon but the notion should not be entirely dismissed. ASHRAE develops standards for lighting based on watts consumed per square foot.  The calculated measure is called Lighting Power Density (LPD) and maximums are set either by space type or for the whole building. Lighting professionals design around LPD allowances and building inspectors use the LPD to determine compliance. The rapid adoption of LED and stand-alone control technologies has tightened up LPD allowances. The most current code, ASHRAE 2016 (which has not been adopted by any state) tightened up allowances to represent that wholesale adoption of LED technology. The next iteration of ASHRAE will be released in 2019 and we can expect LPD allowances to be based on specifiers designing nearly 100% of all projects with LEDs. Once the standard requires the use of the most efficacious technology, what will happen to LPD allowances? My best guess is we will see a stabilization in LPDs with energy savings having to come from elsewhere.

Emerging technologies will also complicate LPD calculations. A major trend in the OEM fixture industry is field adjustability. Here, the OEM produces a single product with a range of options that the contractor selects in the field. The range of selectable options includes the fixtures lumen package, color temperature, and the distribution. These options affect the amount of energy that the luminaire consumes. How will code handle dynamic products that have multiple levels of efficacy based on the option chosen? How will the building inspector verify the LPD when moving to a higher lumen package is as simple as flipping a switch? Manufacturers will utilize this technology because It’s easier to scale and sale. Their primary customers, electrical distribution, will demand this technology because of the simplicity of stocking a single SKU over multiple SKUs. Add in the fact that many of these fixtures will be integrated with sensors and the current LPD calculation model seems too simplistic relative to the technology.  These are but a few challenges that lay ahead for our energy codes. One possible solution could see building types being given a kWh allowance with compliance happening at a yearly level based on data collected about actual use. When a building is not in compliance, it must tweak its systems until it reaches compliance. However, a performance based energy code seems unrealistic and fraught with unforeseen problems.

Fixture and Sensor Systems & IoT

As touched on above, field adjustability will become common in the next generation of LED products. Regardless of the challenges, they pose for the utility industry, the value proposition is too strong for others in the value chain. Besides field adjustability, we will see a push for integrating more sensors into fixtures. There is a humongous opportunity for the utility industry to lead this drive. Today, any LED product that lacks dimming is already functionally obsolete. In the very near future, the same logic will apply for LED fixtures that lack integrated sensors. Forward looking lighting programs should think about only incentivizing fixtures that have integrated controls. Sensors are a precondition for connectivity and unlocking the value that IoT can offer. Keep reading because I have a lot more to say on this topic!

The average app on your smart device updates about every 30 days. This is possible because of cloud computing. Additionally, our smart devices are overbuilt with a variety of sensors and actuators that the device may not be currently using – but may be useful once future updates roll out.  For Smart Lighting Systems, the clear majority of the software being marketed today is cloud based. Cloud based systems produce a better user experience and enhance cyber security. However, today’s lighting hardware lacks standardization. Integrated fixtures tend to rely on simplistic sensors that only perform limited functions, like occupancy sensing. Even the most current sensors, which can collect data on occupancy, light levels, and temperature, will long be obsolete before a LED fixtures end of life. To fully realize their IoT potential, fixtures will need to be manufactured with a simple, universal port to upgrade sensors.  Enter the IoT Ready Alliance – This new organization, launched at Light Fair, is working with manufacturers to create the standard fixture/sensor interface that will fully unlock future value.

Utility customers will demand IoT lighting solutions once the market ensures users of the upgradeability of both hardware and software systems. Simply put, sensors deliver data which enable better business decisions and will unleash a new era of worker productivity. Per the publication Nursing Times, nurses waste about an hour a shift looking for equipment. This works out to about “40 hours a month searching for equipment[1]”.  With rises in beaconing technologies, a solution like ‘LiFi’ (think indoor GPS) will make misplacing items much more difficult. Slap an RFI sticker on a crash cart and your smart device will navigate you to desired items. No more lost time and better outcomes for the patient and business.  A ‘LiFi’ system is also incredibly energy efficient – it’s made up of LED lighting, advanced sensors, and networked controls. Yet, I doubt that a hospital would make the IoT plunge based solely on energy savings. Customers buy on value – and the non-energy values that an IoT application can deliver vastly outweigh the energy savings potential of these systems. Connectivity will shift values away from “save energy” to “increase my productivity”.

Energy Efficiency Programs

This brings me to my final point. Utilities need new program offerings because their customers have changing values and expectations . Manufacturers are responding by creating advanced products and innovative business models. Alliances between rival manufacturers are working to create standards to help propel the broader industry. To remain relevant, utilities will need to evolve past simple widget based incentive programs. I acknowledge the painfulness of this proposition as widget based programs are cost effective, reliable, and easy to communicate. However, shifts in technology necessitate new models based on data and less on assumptions. To quote the futurist Peter Diamandis: “True disruption means threatening your existing product line and your past investments. Breakthrough products disrupt current lines of business[2]”.  We at DNV GL invest a lot of time strategizing on how to position utility programs for the future. We understand that innovation in the utility industry is as much about overcoming regulatory hurdles as proposing bold ideas.  The connected world is on the horizon and utility programs have an important role to play in incentivizing the future.  If your utility would like to continue this conversation, please feel free to reach out to me.

DNV GL has successfully designed and implemented Smart Lighting Solutions projects on behalf of our utility clients for four years. Our team has significant project experience in both retrofitting and new construction of lighting projects. We work through the project life-cycle to identify, justify and evaluate energy saving measures and provide post-installation engineering review to verify savings.

Our team is available to work directly with large institutions to assist them with networked lighting solution projects. For more information, please contact Wesley Whited. Wesley Whited is a Senior Consultant for Smart Lighting Solutions at DNV GL. Mr. Whited has seven years’ experience in the commercial lighting market ranging from project management to sales. Mr. Whited is a graduate of West Virginia University (WVU) and holds an MBA from Capital University in Columbus, OH.


[1] https://www.nursingtimes.net/nurses-waste-an-hour-a-shift-finding-equipment/1987381.article

[2] https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/authors/p/peter_diamandis.html

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