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The Upside to Networked Lighting Controls

My previous post, The Pitfalls of LED Linear Tubes and Smart Lighting, highlighted the limitations that some linear LED tubes have in integrating with a Smart Lighting Solution. The take away was that lighting retrofit happen infrequently, and it’s a good idea to speak to a light professional before you purchase anything to access all your options. Today’s post looks beyond current market conditions and highlights the advantages that individual fixture addressability and fixture/sensor integration creates for a Smart Lighting Solution.  Individual fixture addressability and fixture/sensor integration are two keys we at DNV GL have identified to unlocking the immense potential that Smart Lighting Solutions create for digitizing our future. However, before I describe the splendors of the future, let’s establish what I mean by individual fixture addressability, fixture/sensor integration and Smart Lighting Solutions. 

Individual Addressability of Fixtures:

In the early days of computing, one needed to purchase an additional piece of hardware to connect your computer to a network. A NIC (network interface card) was an expansion card that plugged into a computer bus that allowed the computer to communicate over a network. With the rise of Ethernet standards, manufacturers began to integrate this component into the computer’s motherboard eliminating the need to purchase an expansion card. The effect enabled easier access to the internet. Today, most commercial LED lighting lacks a network interface, requiring the purchase of an additional piece of hardware to connect to a digital network. To speed the adoption of networked controls, forward looking utilities should disrupt the lighting markets by only incentivizing products that have a native digital interface. Manufacturers could provide this interface through a digital driver, smart sensor or any other device that achieves connectivity. The effect would be similar to the standardization around Ethernet and lighting OEMs would respond by producing fixtures that can integrate into a digital network out of the box without additional pieces of hardware.

Fixture/Sensor Integration:

Granularity is the key to maximizing energy savings in control zones. The tighter the zones, the larger the savings. Fixtures that have an individual digital interface and an integrated sensor operate as individual zones. Utility lighting programs should also consider requiring fixture/sensor integration to qualify for a utility rebate. The efficacy of a fixture depends on its ratio of input watts to outputted lumens. The efficacy of a sensor is harder to measure. However, we do know that a higher density of sensors lead to higher energy savings. Because lighting is ubiquitous throughout all building types and spaces, requiring fixture/sensor integration would ensure a high density of sensors throughout any space.

The issue with sensor integration is the rapid pace of change to physical sensor technology. A few years ago, the best sensors on the market only provided a single function, like occupancy sensing. Today, the best sensors act as the fixtures digital interface and collect data on occupancy, light levels and temperatures. Who knows what the fixtures of tomorrow will be capable of. To future-proof lighting fixtures that may have a 15 year life, the IoT Alliance is advocating that a universal port be provided on all fixtures, allowing sensors to be swapped out when they are obsolete. If you are interested in learning more about this technology, please read my blog – Confronting challenges head on – my takeaways from the DLC Stakeholder meeting.

What does Smart Lighting Solutions Mean?

Smart Lighting Solutions refers to the digital integration of lighting fixtures, sensors, and software to create an environment that maximizes occupant comfort and saves energy. These individual products communicate using a set protocol over a digital network that is controlled by a central server running software. Individual, or groups of devices receive a unique address which allows for two-way communication between a controller and the device. Networks can be hard wired or wireless depending on preference.

The lighting industry is moving beyond products and taking a systemic approach to illumination. Soon, when we think of lighting, we will think of the system that is providing the illumination, not just the individual fixtures. Though digitally addressable fluorescent dimming ballasts exist, LEDs are driving the networked lighting revolution. LEDs are powered by semi-conductors making them a digital technology. To fully leverage the digital power of LEDs they should be provided with a digital interface allowing for individual addressability.

What is the Upside to Smart Lighting Solutions?

Rebatable: A utility Smart Lighting Solution incentive program should require a networked lighting solution. Networked lighting greatly simplifies the M&V process and significantly reduces risk. The two-way communication between the device and the controller allows for data to be collected in short time intervals about energy consumption. Networked systems can export the data at set time intervals, allowing for easy verification of actual usage against expectations.

For utilities that are looking to move beyond current lighting program measures, they should consider shifting incentives to fixtures that have integrated controls and/or fixtures that have a native digital interface. As mentioned above, fixtures that have factory integrated digital interfaces and sensors lowers barriers and makes networked control projects easier to get off the ground.

Future Savings: Networked lighting controls go beyond even the strictest codes and will achieve savings into the future. For, Smart Lighting Solutions, the opportunity for energy efficiency has been documented to demonstrate as high as 92% energy savings when applied in combination with LED lighting replacing existing lighting in commercial spaces.

Simplicity in Specification: The first rule in designing for lighting controls is to understand what you are controlling. Digitally addressable lighting simplifies the specification process by guaranteeing compatibility between drivers and controls that use the same protocol. Eliminating compatibility issues speeds up the design process.

Simplicity in Wiring: Networked lighting can be connected by one daisy chain, unlike analog technologies, wires from the controller must be physically connected to each zone. Daisy-chaining saves on labor and reduces the likelihood of wiring errors.

Rezoning at Will: Related to the previous point, the fixtures can be daisy chained because the zoning takes place in the software. Lighting systems have a long life and can often outlast a tenant. The ability to reconfigure zones without rewiring helps ‘future-proof’ a space.

Increased Occupant Comfort: Networked lighting can allow for personal control over individual spaces while automating lighting in shared areas. Personal control over lighting leads to higher levels of comfort, which is correlated with higher levels of productivity. Individual addressability is very important in personal control of the lighting directly related to the impacted user’s needs.

Scalability: Lighting is just the beginning of what a networked lighting system can achieve. When a space has an existing Building Management System (BMS), integration with other building operations is where we see some and expect all systems to be in the future.

WOW! Factor

If you have ever experienced a Smart Lighting Solution in person, there is a certain WOW! factor that is hard to quantify. My first experience was in a large conference room in a downtown office suite. It was midday when our meeting began and the presenter calmly took out his smartphone, touched a button on an app, lowering the blinds, dimming the lights and telling everyone that the meeting had started. Controlling the environment gave the presenter an instant authoritative presence. The preset scene created the ideal environment for a presentation, creating one less distraction for the audience. That was a few years ago and I am still amazed every time something similar happens. Networked lighting creates better visual environments which have numerous benefits for a variety of reasons and occupants.

If you would like more about where commercial lighting is headed or the DNV GL Smart Lighting Solutions incentive program, please visit our Knowledge Hub or  feel free to reach out. For my next posts, I will start with a primer that explains the vocabulary of networking and then dive deep into the Internet of Things (IoT), but know that the foundation for the digital revolution may well be above our heads.

DNV GL has successfully designed and implemented Smart Lighting Systems 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 utilities to assist them with Smart Lighting Solutions offerings. 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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