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Peering into the Crystal Ball – Smart Lighting Solutions and the Internet of Things

My previous post we examined the fascinating concept of vertical farming and LEDs bridging the gap on artificial lighting. Let’s now look at the future and the major advantages of networked lighting control systems. My call for action is this – utilities begin considering modifying their existing lighting programs to incentivize fixtures that have digital interfaces and/or integrated sensors. Networked lighting, with its power of digital connectivity, will become the backbone of the smart building. I believe this because lighting has three major advantages over other building systems:  its ubiquity, the physical space it inhabits and its power source. Lighting is everywhere, in every type of space; indoors, outside, laboratories, executive suites… Lighting is always above us, occupying the ideal territory to integrate with data-gathering sensors. Finally, LEDs are low voltage, creating the power source for the sensor network. Before I discuss where networked lighting is taking us, I want to define a few terms that will shape this post. If you missed my post Explaining the Jargon behind the Internet of Things, it may be a useful reference to help explain some terminology I use below.

What are smart buildings?

Smart buildings are structures that automate building operations like HVAC, lighting, plug load shedding, and security. The smart building uses a network of sensors to collect, measure and analyze data which helps the structure create an ideal environment while consuming the least amount of energy. Smart buildings help businesses make better decisions by leveraging the granular data that they collect to support business intelligence goals.

How do Smart Buildings Use the Internet of Things (IoT)?

At its most basic, the Internet of Things (IoT) is the concept of connecting ordinary devices, like toasters and lighting, to the internet. It is a catchall phrase describing automated two-way communication between devices. It distinguishes device-to-device communication from people-to-device and people-to-people communication. The IoT is the technology that allows the smart building to automate building operations.  Smart buildings are the aggregation of all the devices in that building that use IoT technology to communicate.

What Does This Mean for Networked Lighting? 

Power over Ethernet (PoE) is Coming! There are many different shapes that connected lighting can grow in – but I am very excited about PoE. One day lighting in smart buildings will not be powered by #12 wire and will not be installed by a licensed electrician. Firstly, LEDs are low-voltage and powered by DC. Stepping down AC mains inside a driver is inefficient when compared to powering the fixture directly with DC. Luminaires will be powered by twisted pair Ethernet cable with a simple RJ-45 connector, making the fixtures plug-n-play. This solution is called Power over Ethernet (PoE). Because the fixture is powered by a data cable, it is assigned its own IP address. When the fixture is integrated with a sensor, it will act as a hub, collecting data on lighting levels, temperature, and energy usage, relaying the information back to a controller. The lighting hub is part of the buildings LAN and is integrated into the building’s IT architecture.

Because the system is low-voltage, daisy chained and plug-in-plug, there is no need to hire an electrical contractor. Labor for installation will come from a low-voltage installer and maintenance will be provided by IT. The cost savings on labor will help lower the switching cost and make the technology more affordable.

Future-Proofed: Smart buildings will be future-proofed because they run on software. Sensors will become more multi-functional by integrating a built-in processor running software. The software will be frequently updated, extending the life of the luminaire and sensor. There will be less need for buildings to have maintenance on staff as failing luminaires will proactively report issues to IT, who will remotely try and address the issue, before scheduling an in-person inspection.

The IoT ready Alliance, a new industry organization launched at Light Fair this year, is working with a variety of stakeholders to help address the future-proofing concept. They envision a future where all fixtures are supplied with a universal port, allowing an end-user to swap out sensors at the end of their functional life. As we move towards a more connected world, the role of these industry organizations will grow to ensure interoperability of devices.

Deeper Integrations:  Once building systems are automated through IoT technology and the lighting hubs are future-proofed through upgradeable sensors, the future becomes wide open. The most current buzz concerns integrating lighting and geolocation. Imagine walking into an unfamiliar store to pick up an item. As you enter, your smartphone navigates you directly to the spot the item is located. As you reach down to place the item in your cart, you receive a digital coupon from a rival brand offering you 25% off. You select your preferred brand and are rewarded by a 30% coupon instantly applied at checkout. Your smartphone navigates you to an unoccupied register and you pay. The technology behind this scenario is called ‘beaconing’ and represents integrating Bluetooth with lighting. Bluetooth is accurate to within a few centimeters.

‘Beaconing’ will become the ‘GPS’ of indoors. Besides its application in retail, it will allow a range of stakeholders to track assets. Getting lost and misplacing things will become a lot harder. The basis for beaconing will be fixture/sensor integration and the ability to upgrade systems via software.

Increasing Comfort:  Our environments will become more comfortable. I think we will quickly take this for granted, but none the less, it will lead to better outcomes. For instance, lighting in healthcare will follow circadian rhythms, helping patients heal and staff better adjust to the night shift. In education, the instructor will use color tuning to create different moods for their students, helping to improve reading speed or calm down an overactive class. In our offices, we will have personal control over private spaces while common areas will be automated around our collective schedules.

Commercial Production: In an upcoming blog I’ll be providing the details on how Smart Lighting Solutions and LEDs can provide agriculture solutions to help solve some of the world’s food and water shortage dilemmas.

The Takeaway 

I can confidently speak about where we are headed because everything I described above is already happening. It is not a matter of if we develop smart buildings, but a matter of when they become the norm. Smart Lighting Solutions will be the foundation that deeper building integration is built around. Many barriers to adoption exists, none larger than acquisition costs. Well-crafted utility incentives are needed to help the courageous become early adopters.

Looking for more information please visit our Smart Lighting Solutions Knowledge Hub or feel free to contract 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 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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