While it is environmentally sound to turn off a building's lights once business is done for the day, those lights go on again as people return to work after hours. Since most buildings use some type of access control and some variation of lighting controls, it was only a matter of time before integrating the two became a reality.

“In the past, there was not a lot of integration between [lighting and access control],” said Ken Walma, general manager, Cooper Controls, Peachtree City, Ga. “You may have seen things like key access for lighting or a key used to operate access and lights to a room but not at the level it is now.”

Steve Davis, senior regional sales manager, AMAG Technology, Torrance, Calif., said how two systems communicate is critical.

“Most energy management systems use BACnet as their communication protocol, and some access control manufacturers, like AMAG, support BACnet also,” Davis said. “That means that when communicating in that protocol, they understand one another.

The total building shutdown makes system integration attractive. The ability to turn off systems in entire buildings after hours and only use certain areas as needed provides an energy savings that is a welcome relief as building owners and operators continue to struggle with rising energy costs. Davis added that this type of integration is considered green, which further adds to its appeal.

“Take hotel rooms as an example. We are now seeing different things from an energy standpoint. There are hotels now where the room key, which is access control, is also being used to turn on the lights and HVAC in the room as well. Unless that key is inserted, there is no power flowing to the room,” Walma said.

With manufacturers, such as AMAG Technology, the option to integrate with other systems resides within the software and is an optional module that can be turned on relatively easily.

“On the access control side, it is easy since we send the reader transactions through a BACnet gateway. On the lighting side, it is done through commands that are written regarding who goes where,” Davis said.

The success of integration is being felt across multiple industry sectors, and Davis said more people are coming to him with requests for such solutions.

“I believe it will continue to increase in popularity because of the cost of energy continuing to go up and people being more sensitive to green issues, as well,” he said. “What enhanced integration and automation can do is take the process of things, such as turning off lights at night, and make the process more automated, thus enhancing green initiatives.”

Davis said lighting controls could be integrated even further.

“In one possible application, say someone enters a building after hours, they would present their access card at the reader, and the transaction would be sent through the BACnet gateway. That would then tell the lighting system where that person is going and then not only light their office, but also light a pathway to their office. It could also turn on things like the air conditioning and heating. When that person then leaves, the system knows to then shut everything back down,” he said.

No longer would a building’s entire lighting system be turned on. Only those that are needed would pull power.

The integrated approach, according to both Walma and Davis, is easier to manage in owner-occupied buildings compared to tenant fit-outs due to the centralized systems. In multiple-tenant buildings, systems get complicated. Some large buildings have a master access control system at the front door and then individual lighting systems for each floor or area. Partitioning the master software into different companies would help understand who needs to go where.

Two ways in

Walma said there essentially are two ways to integrate lighting and access control: one-way communication and two-way communication. Schools and hotel rooms use one-way communication. The more-complex two-way option is where systems work parallel to one another and do tasks, such as lighting paths to offices. Contractors should understand their customer’s needs before presenting such an idea.

While there do not seem to be compatibility issues in getting the systems to communicate with one another, Walma said the downside is the generally negative connotation associated with heightened levels of control. However, that is an emotional issue that has nothing to do with the benefits of the solution. Customers need to be shown the benefits to system integration.

“These slight changes to how individuals interact with a building are what will facilitate incremental energy savings, despite some initial concerns or even complaints,” Walma said.

STONG-MICHAS, a freelance writer, lives in central Pennsylvania. She can be reached at jennifer.stong@comcast.net.