Growing Brighter: Opportunities to implement smart lighting inside and outside

Published On
Apr 15, 2021

Now is the time to get excited about prospects for new starts and more sustainable architecture and facilities. This should be good for electrical contractors as infrastructure stimulus grows and technology develops.

Inventory of aging buildings

The infrastructure landscape of buildings, facilities and street lighting seems to be ripe for upgrade. Updates could save operating costs and reduce the carbon footprint for owners of aging buildings. Adding smart lighting is likely to contribute to reducing the nation’s energy use and mitigating climate change impacts.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration’s “2018 Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey,” more than half of U.S. commercial buildings were built between 1960 and 1999, and 25% have been built since 2000. According to the survey, the total number of buildings increased 6% from 2012 to 2018, and total floorspace increased 11%. But that is still a large amount of aging building stock.

Aging buildings, combined with an uptick in the sheer total number of buildings and available floor space, is a notable trend. This data, however, coincides with a full-court press for smart automation and control to reduce energy consumption and improve building operational efficiency.

Larry O’Brien, vice president of research at ARC Advisory Group, Dedham, Mass., explains in a post on the company’s blog that building electrical systems, in general, are transforming from a purely analog system to digital. This digitization is expected to serve a growing trend to automate and make many systems, including lighting systems, much smarter.

“While many installed systems are basic analog electrical systems, most projects that are being designed and commissioned today utilize digital architecture, IP-based communications and web accessibility to increase the breadth and capabilities of these systems,” O’Brien writes.

“There is also a strong trend toward the integration of once-disparate systems, such as lighting control, access control and others. Suppliers that develop all these systems on one platform allow information to be exchanged seamlessly between the systems, and data from the systems can be viewed holistically, where applicable.”

Smarter on the outside

While often associated with indoor lighting systems, street lighting is another component to smart lighting. Light pollution is a known phenomenon that detracts from the natural dark sky, not to mention the amount of energy streetlights use. In addition, streetlights affect other factors of a smart city. For electrical contractors, it’s important to monitor what steps cities are taking toward smart lighting. Opportunities reside in a city’s potential to alter its street lighting system to reduce and control unnecessary nighttime illumination.

Smart street lighting, when wired with smart sensors, can help city management serve other causes such as street safety and signaling situations that could help a municipality in different ways. This is precisely what a team of scientists from the United States, Germany and Ireland found when they researched how smart city lighting technology in Tucson, Ariz., can provide multiple benefits when applied properly.

Over 10 days in March and April 2019, the researchers worked with the city to change the brightness settings for about 14,000 of the city’s 19,500 streetlights. Their streetlights are normally set to glide down from 90% illumination to about 60% by midnight. They dim as the need for brightness generally decreases. Then the researchers had the city lights dimmed all the way down to 30% on some nights and brightened them up to 100% on others. Using satellite imagery, they found that only about 20% of the light in satellite images of Tucson comes from streetlights.

When the team further examined how varying the illuminance of streetlights affected the sky brightness, they were able to show that most of the sky brightness over Tucson is due to other sources such as “bright shop windows, lit signs and facades or sport fields.”

In reducing the overall light pollution, or unneeded (and some would say wasted) light, investment in streetlights wasn’t the main culprit. In fact, sources that were totally unregulated with sensors and controls were a major source of unnecessary light.

Researchers found that street lighting brightness on the different nights is barely perceptible to people and eyes quickly adapt to the light levels. In the end, they said there was “no evidence or suggestion that reducing lighting levels as part of the experiment had any adverse effect on public safety.”

When combining this technology with possible policy changes, the future of lighting looks bright.

About the Author

Jim Romeo

Freelance Writer

Jim Romeo is a freelance writer based in Chesapeake, Va. He focuses on business and technology topics. Find him at

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