More Than Photons: Advanced Lighting Controls

By Darlene Bremer | Oct 15, 2015
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Thanks to advanced lighting controls, various industries view lighting as an important element in energy-efficient design. It is a business-intelligence platform that combines sensors and systems in a way that provides excellent illumination and energy savings. These technologies enable users to manage light and the cost of doing business.

Advanced lighting controls is fairly broad terminology, but one of the idea’s defining characteristics is that such a system can be as complex as a user wants or needs it to be.

An advanced lighting control can be as simple as a wall-switch occupancy sensor connected to a room controller or as elaborate as a whole-room system with up to 64 loads and 48 devices.

“The nodes that comprise an advanced lighting control system can control a single fixture or a whole series of fixtures and can be controlled manually, with occupancy and motion sensors, with automatic time clocks, or by connecting to a utility demand-response system or to other building management systems,” said Gerard Darville, director of project management for Lutron Electronics Co. Inc., Coopersburg, Pa. Darville also said each control node can be addressed and individually programmed or reprogrammed to meet the needs of the space without rewiring.

“For systems requiring communication between rooms or to a front-end device, a network bridge would be installed in the room to allow communication between the room’s Cat 5e network and the room-to-room segment network,” said Charles Knuffke, vice president of systems for Watt­Stopper, Santa Clara, Calif., when discussing the company’s digital lighting management (DLM) system.

At its core, the intelligence of advanced lighting controls is attributable to the sensors embedded in each fixture. These sensors determine occupancy, temperature and more, and software processes this data. The combined effect achieves a system that automatically responds to the environment.

Beyond their inherent advancements, however, advanced lighting controls satisfy code mandates. They are designed to meet or exceed energy conservation and efficiency codes, which are most often derived from ASHRAE 90.1 and California Title 24, according to Aaron Kless, director of application engineering for Digital Lumens, Boston. Recent energy code revisions incorporate more requirements for testing, commissioning and certification of systems, continuous dimming, and lighting controls, including daylight harvesting, automatic time switches, occupancy sensors, automatic shutoffs, overrides and demand-response controls. An advanced lighting control system can help buildings meet these requirements.

Advanced vs. conventional—it’s black and white

Assuming codes don’t provoke an upgrade, customer demand may. Advanced lighting controls possess many advantages over conventional systems.

These systems are inherently beneficial because they are more efficient and offer more flexibility than conventional ones. For instance, Kless said conventional lighting controls are limited to step dimming or on/off functionality, which can adversely affect system longevity and user comfort. In comparison, advanced lighting controls, with their continuous dimming, multiple sensors and software-based control, enable lighting to become a managed asset rather than a binary load.

“Legacy control systems, since not adaptable over time, can become cumbersome and frequently get overridden by the end-users, eliminating the original energy-conservation advantages,” Kless said.

Knuffke said one reason performance of digitally based advanced lighting controls exceeds conventional controls is because they are capable of layered approaches.

“For example, time delays for occupancy sensors can be of longer durations during the day but then transitioned to shorter delays at night,” he said.

Another reason for greater performance of advanced lighting controls transcends the implications of dedicated lighting technologies and incorporates other strategies. 

For example, Darville said advanced lighting controls can exceed code requirements with daylight harvesting capabilities, along with shade controls, maximizing the use of the daylight in the space.

“End-users can continually adjust and reprogram advanced lighting controls and readapt the lighting in the space more easily while maintaining energy efficiency,” he said.

Reduced maintenance costs is yet another benefit because advanced lighting controls alert the building owner or maintenance staff when a light is about to fail or when other preventative maintenance needs to be performed.

“Because the building owner is getting real occupancy information from the system, use of individual spaces can be maximized as part of an asset-management program,” Darville said.

Finally, an advanced lighting controls system has the benefit of being more future-proof. As the needs of a space evolve, digital lighting controls may hedge the requirements for retrofit construction or rewiring.

The keys to the future

Achieving an advanced lighting controls system that satisfies today’s demands is possible, but, according to Darville, such a system enables the end-user to meet changing energy requirements. A few elements play primary roles in this capability.

Audwin Cash, vice president of Acuity Controls, Acuity Brands Lighting, Atlanta, attributed this fluidity in purpose to the software base of the technology.

“End-users may upgrade system operation over time and continue to improve control performance,” he said.

Addressable systems also allow end-users to repurpose their space and program system operation to support new arrangements of furniture, office locations or employee illumination preferences.

These software-based lighting systems with advanced lighting control capabilities need standards-based, bidirectional application programming interfaces (APIs) that enable them to share data or take application calls from third-party systems.

The two communication protocols typically used to integrate advanced lighting control within building systems are BACnet and LonWorks.

“Although there are less sophisticated models available, the use of these protocols remain the preferred method,” Cash said.

Kless said these systems are an investment in a property.

“Intelligent lighting systems with advanced controls integrated into every fixture are proven to deliver a payback period of one to three years,” Kless said. 

Factors that influence that timeframe include energy rate, previous lighting technology, facility operating hours and facility occupancy.

Of course, a system could leverage elements of both advanced and conventional controls, but Kless said piecing together a control system with disparate legacy technology would be a complex challenge for any electrical contractor.

Beyond controls, however, combining advanced lighting systems with cutting-edge lighting technologies, such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs), can achieve drastic energy savings.

“LEDs can save about 50 percent of energy usage from just their wattage reduction,” Kless said. “With the addition of an advanced control system, users can gain another 40 percent in savings.”

In many ways, LEDs may be the only way to satisfy a code or user demand.

“Non-LED fixtures cannot be controlled with intelligent controls to the level of granularity that provides high levels of energy efficiency,” Kless said.

Contractor opportunities

New technologies have the potential to simplify installation and reduce its time and costs, but each product and manufacturer is different. It is important to develop expertise on the specific equipment being installed, and advanced lighting controls have a higher demand for data installations that use Cat 5 or fiber optic cabling and often involve installing equipment in a server room.

“This is, however, a great opportunity for electrical contractors to add more value by becoming experts in data-system installation,” Kless said.

By using and understanding more digitally oriented systems, contractors may be able to attract a more diverse workforce composed of people already versed in the technology.

A big challenge for contractors in this area is that, even though they need to understand and install more advanced systems, budgets are not increasing. As with any attempt to break into a new market, there is a risk, but Cash said contractors could mitigate the financial danger by training employees on networked controls and local area networks.

Seeking out training to better understand advanced lighting control systems would increase contractors’ installation efficiency and improve success rates. In addition, if contractors understand the programming aspect, they can offer post-installation service contracts.

“That could be a very profitable opportunity and enable contractors to increase their service offerings,” Darville said.

However, to fully leverage these opportunities, contractors must understand how to communicate with clients and vendors concerning system operation.

“The industry is moving toward communicating in a ‘sequence of operations’ instead of a simple bill of material because, since system components are programmed to function in a specific and coordinated way, the vendor and programming technician need this sequence input to properly configure projects,” Cash said.

Meanwhile, energy codes and end-users increasingly demand more control zones be built into the system for greater energy savings.

“Advanced lighting controls, however, actually enable contractors to meet this challenge and manage projects more easily, rather than needing to keep track of a great number of zones and installing them separately,” Darville said.

Light on the horizon

It’s hard to predict the future for this market because of its constant and rapid change. Navigating the LED revolution can be perilous. Continually changing energy code requirements spark the desire for products that are simple to install yet scalable. Furthermore, there’s a great need for enhanced communication and operational efficiency through system integration.

However, every device and system within buildings will continue to get smarter while control zones get smaller.

“End-users want more control over individual devices and will continue to drive the development of advanced lighting controls to allow the use of more daylight through either intelligently controlling shades or the windows’ tint levels,” Darville said.

About The Author

Darlene Bremer, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributed frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR until the end of 2015.





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