Open and Accessible Light: Controlling Lighting in Public Spaces

By Claire Swedberg | Mar 15, 2018




Lighting controls in large public spaces have evolved differently than those for offices and homes. The 24/7 operation of healthcare facilities, airports and train stations means lights are always on and at maximum output. As time passes and technology evolves, so too has this industry.

Due to a combination of energy-efficiency needs and the growing technological capacity, lights are intelligent enough to do more than illuminate a space. LEDs dominate new lighting installations, and lighting manufacturers are moving away from traditional design concepts. However, some things will never change.

“The light fixture is the one constant in every site,” said David Moeller, director of customer markets, Graybar, St. Louis. “There will always be a light fixture at regular intervals,” including highly active facilities with visitors 24/7.

LEDs enable connected lighting in large public spaces, which makes all the difference when it comes to lighting control. In the past, building owners only had occupancy sensors to control lighting in places that closed when unoccupied, such as schools, offices and shopping malls. However, technology led to other functions—such as motion sensing—so facility managers can do a lot more than just turn out the lights.

Basically, if activity is reduced, lights can dim. Or, if incoming daylight is high, the interior lighting controls can adjust to save energy. Users are now able to communicate with lighting in real time. They can make adjustments related to any event or environment, and they are able to apply additional sensors to lighting—such as those with Bluetooth low energy—to collect additional data. Today’s lighting controls can be connected a variety of ways: through Cat 5 or other low-voltage cabling or, increasingly, wireless methods.

One of the latest developments is light fidelity (Li-Fi), an optical networking technology using LEDs to transmit data. It is an alternative to Wi-Fi. Since lights are installed throughout the building, they provide a much wider coverage area than a single router could. That opens up opportunities for electrical contractors.

“We’re seeing more connected lighting pop up in specs,” Moeller said. “If your customer thinks of you as the lighting person or the [datacom] network provider, there is a role in these installations.”

“If your customer thinks of you as the lighting person or the [datacom] network provider, there is a role in these installations."
—David Moeller, Graybar

It helps that companies are looking to improve their energy efficiency or connectivity now rather than later.

“The world is changing, and that kind of work will go to people who can demonstrate that they can be part of that ecosystem. To have all of this converge right on top of the electrical contractor, who already knows the owner, is pretty exciting,” Moeller said.

Saving energy and money using data

Building owners are paying attention to the profitability of their spaces. With connected lighting, facilities operators can better understand how the space is being used, how many people are in a location, and when they are there. Light levels  can be adjusted accordingly.

For example, airport operators can make dynamic changes to their spaces using connected lighting and well-deployed sensors. A sensor can track the location of assets, such as wheelchairs. Airlines can get information about the lines at the security gates. Meanwhile, train station restaurants can monitor how much time passengers spend lingering in front of their business and attract them inside. Lighting itself can be dimmed a percentage when foot traffic drops.

Tom Leonard, vice president of marketing and product management for Leviton’s energy-management controls and automation, said LEDs are inherently designed for control. Despite that, many facility owners still find the topic of lighting controls and connected lighting confusing, and that may especially be the case in large public spaces.

Some new adopters benefit from an incremental approach. Companies may take their early steps with energy ­savings—leveraging the ability to trim back lighting by as little as 15 percent with no visible impact—depending on the environment.

“When you have spaces that must be illuminated without interruption, you see the case for incremental savings [through light reduction],” Leonard said.

For example, a breezeway between airport terminals late at night may not need the 100-percent lighting that illuminates the same space during the morning rush. Sensors on pedestrian moving walkways already can determine that a drop in traffic means speed can be reduced, for instance. With lighting controls, the same concept can dim down the light levels while still providing a safe level of illumination.

So, lighting that typically operates at 80 percent capacity could be reduced to 50 percent based on a number of automatic triggers. The automatic adjustment could be scheduled to take effect at specific times, in reaction to natural light entering the space or by sensing the number of people in the space at a given time.

“There are already a number of facilities that use this to varying degrees,” Leonard said. “A contractor that’s up-to-date is able to provide value added services to enhance both controllability and energy savings [when doing installations].”

Companies, such as Graybar, Leviton and Lutron, provide educational support to help contractors make that transition.
“We have more and more contractors that are turning to our resources,” Leonard said.

Leonard estimates most large public facilities with lighting fitted in the last five to seven years have some form of controls, including most airports. However, more adjustments are needed.

Brent Patterson, Lutron’s director of product management—hospitality, agrees. Lighting controls are fundamental to comfortable, welcoming public spaces, he said. As the internet of things (IoT) continues to increase the intelligence, interoperability and capability of building systems, lighting will continue to become more responsive, automatically adjusting to environmental conditions and accomodating the changing needs of large public spaces.

Simplicity for the end-user is the goal.

“It’s incumbent on lighting and control manufacturers to simplify the process of selection, design, installation and setup to ensure the system meets design intent, can be installed and programmed easily, is intuitive for the customer to understand and use, and offers flexibility when job specs change,” he said.

The challenges for healthcare

Hospitals have challenges of their own. Common areas can benefit from control schemes, while patient rooms or other spaces could also gain from occupancy sensors.

“Most hospitals don’t have a lot of controls in their common areas,” Leonard said. “Virtually, in every application of lighting, there’s a case to be made for controls.”

Traditionally, lighting in healthcare facilities has relied on fluorescent fixtures with some supplemental incandescent lighting to improve aesthetics, boost light levels and improve color, said Mike Lunn, product marketing director at Eaton’s lighting division. Often, specialized fixtures were required because of the need for the addition of heating, ventilation, air conditioning, plumbing and fire protection installations that left little space in the ceiling to install even the shallowest lighting fixtures.

“Additionally, the specific needs of each room type within a facility dictated specific requirements, such as sealed, gasketed and even radio-interference filtering,” Lunn said.

Healthcare facilities now are turning to the latest lighting control systems during renovations and in new construction. Control-based digital lighting makes it possible for facilities to receive data from the fixtures, which can then be used by the lighting application to effectively manage the system and by third-party systems to provide value-added services.

Wireless control systems are increasingly popular in hospitals; they eliminate the cost and complexity associated with wired systems. However, wired systems are still required in many applications.

“For these applications, digital and addressable control systems continue to offer cost benefits over the traditional 0–10V [volt] control systems, especially for large facilities where installers can leverage modular wiring systems to further reduce the installation cost,” Lunn said.

In some large healthcare facilities, the lighting control systems are connected to the other subsystems operating the facility. In almost all of these projects, Lunn said the lighting control system is part of the building intelligence, integrating lighting into security systems, backup power control systems, or even automatic shade systems for rooms where light-sensitive patients are cared for.

Newly built hospitals—and even some retrofit and remodeling projects—are seeking to integrate lighting controls with other building subsystems.

Eaton is involved in many of the new hospital installations.

“Eaton has also been involved in several hospital projects where we had to integrate the lighting control system with IP-based patient entertainment systems,” Lunn said.

These systems enable patients to control their lighting, TV and more through a touchscreen next to the bed. Beyond this integration, IoT technologies are allowing more systems to become compatible with each other, and lighting infrastructure is becoming the platform to provide applications such as real-time location systems, nurse-call systems and geofencing, which controls lights based on the GPS location of a phone.

Many healthcare operations are investing in systems to enhance patient experience and increase productivity of staff and equipment. Lighting can provide that infrastructure at a very affordable cost. It also can deliver even more connectivity, since lights are almost everywhere people are.

“It’s often evenly placed across a building and is already powered,” Lunn said.

In addition, innovations such as low-voltage lighting systems, color tuning and wireless connected lighting are making new construction and retrofits much quicker to complete while also bringing down the cost.

“Contractors and integrators should embrace LED lighting, IoT and the convergence of lighting as infrastructure for IoT,” Lunn said.

About The Author

SWEDBERG is a freelance writer based in western Washington. She can be reached at [email protected].

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