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Going Wireless – A Practical Solution for Retrofitting Lighting Controls

My previous blog delved into Explaining the Jargon Behind the Internet of Things; in this post I am going to explore how advances in wireless technology are making Smart Lighting Solutions viable to the retrofit market. The U.S. Energy Information Agency (EIA) estimates that commercial lighting consumed 150 billion kWh in 2016. That works out to about 11% of all electricity consumed by the commercial sector. Lowering total electrical consumption is a priority for many utilities, with lighting being viewed as the easiest avenue for achieving savings. Commercial customers are also driven by savings, especially when those savings lower operating costs and free up cash flow. A lighting retrofit, when paired with a utility incentive, makes a compelling business case for both parties.

As the price of LEDs continues to fall and their reliability increases, more and more commercial customers are upgrading to a LED solution. LED is digital, and when provided with a digital interface can easily integrate into a digital network. DNV GL has worked on energy efficiency projects that have documented savings as high as 90% when retrofitting an existing commercial space with LEDs and Smart Lighting Solutions (SLS). However, many commercial customers do not consider purchasing an SLS system with an LED upgrade because of cost or disruption to their business. Below I will discuss how a wireless lighting control system can help overcome the barriers of cost and disruption and help close more SLS retrofit projects.

What are Wireless Smart Lighting Solutions?

We live in a wireless world. Wireless networks connect our computers, allow our phones to communicate with the internet, apps, and each other, and are now transforming our buildings to function the same way. A wireless network consists of many interconnected devices, called nodes, that communicate using the same language, or protocol. Each device in the wireless network has a small radio transmitter that allow it to communicate with other devices. These wireless networks can be assembled as ‘point-to point’, where data is passed in a straight line, or as a ‘mesh’, where every device can communicate with the other devices and can relay data to and from its neighbors. Unlike the older strings of holiday lights that all went out when one bulb burned out, most Smart Lighting Solutions rely on mesh networks, because they allow bi-directional communication, are self-healing, and can automatically reroute data if one device in the network is inoperable. Additionally, mesh networks are scalable, making it easy to add new devices, or to take devices offline.

What are Some Wireless Protocols?

In networking, a protocol is a set of standard rules that devices use to communicate. Protocols are akin to syntax in spoken language. Protocols can either be open-source or proprietary. Below is a quick overview of two popular wireless protocols.

ZigBee: ZigBee is an open-source protocol that runs on a mesh network topology. ZigBee is a local area network (LAN).  ZigBee is good for communicating small amounts of data over distance. ZigBee networks have high latency and networks can bottleneck when multiple nodes must pass through a single node to reach a gateway. ZigBee was developed as a substitute for Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and run on the 2.4GHz band.

Z-Wave:  Z-Wave is a proprietary protocol that runs on a mesh network topology. Z-Wave is a local area network (LAN).  Z-Wave operates at a lower frequency than other networks, 908.42MHz, and can contain up to 232 nodes. By operating at a lower frequency, Z-Wave devices will not suffer interference from Wi-Fi or Bluetooth and can transmit data further than ZigBee.  Z-Wave chips are currently only sold by one supplier, which limits the number of devices that they are in.

If your Smart Lighting Solutions (SLS) system uses multiple protocols, or you wish to tie your lighting system into a Building Management System (BMS), you will need a gateway. A gateway interfaces between two different networks, like ZigBee to BACnet, to establish mutually acceptable administrative procedures between both networks.

Why Wireless for my Retrofit?

A wireless control system can provide all the energy savings benefits of a hardwired lighting control system, without the need to rewire a space. Labor and maintenance issues are reduced by not having to run control wires to every device and then back to a central server. The simplicity of wireless also lowers design time as engineers will not have to layout complex wiring schemes. Unlike hardwired approaches, wireless is very flexible. New devices can be easily brought in or dropped off a network. If fixtures are grouped together in ‘zones,’ these zones can be reconfigured by software, eliminating the need to rewire if a space’s purpose changes. Finally, because much of the commissioning happens over software, it minimizes the time needed to complete a renovation. That means fewer disruptions to business operations.

Lighting retrofits happen infrequently, so it is important to consider all options when deciding to move forward.  If a retrofit involves LED, Smart Lighting Solutions (SLS) present an excellent opportunity to maximize your energy savings. Wireless systems are reliable and cost effective. They minimize design time, and simplify the installation process. For a renovation, this means less money spent on labor and less disruption for business operations. Wireless SLS makes sense for any retrofit project that seeks to maximize energy savings. If you would like more information on Smart Lighting Solutions, please visit our Knowledge Hub or contact me directly. Be sure to read my next blog on the interesting topic of LED vertical farming.

Post Script: DNV GL and Smart Lighting Solutions

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 Smart Lighting Solutions 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 a MBA from Capital University in Columbus, OH.

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