The Complex Becomes The Norm: Six Reasons Contractors Consider Smart Lighting

Smart Lighting Controls Photo Credit: iStock / Svetabelaya
Photo Credit: iStock / Svetabelaya

Not long ago, smart lighting was outside the realm of typical commercial projects. Driven by energy-efficiency, integration and interoperability demands, smart lighting has moved past hype and become practical. Electrical contractors have a place in this market, and now is the time to get into it.

Smart lighting brings facility managers control in the form of sensing capability, connectivity, integration and automation. The goals are energy savings, improved environmental wellness and productivity, and better building operation.

Forays into smart lighting began with remote lighting operation, vacancy/occupancy sensors and dimmable fixtures that automatically respond to available daylight. Wireless features often are at the center of these systems, usually in retrofit applications, reducing the cost of entry for existing buildings and homes.

Today, basic smart lighting features—such as time clock control, occupancy sensing, remote access, demand response and receptacle controls—are parts of base functionality for new buildings, said Tom Perich, Lutron’s director of channel marketing.

He said system integration through BACnet and cloud-based-application integration are becoming commonplace in commercial buildings, while homeowners embrace lighting controls within the internet of things (IoT), as part of their new normal.

“[In smart homes,] lights, shades, thermostats, doorbells and security systems can be controlled and managed from their ubiquitous smartphones and devices or via voice commands relayed to smart assistants,” Perich said.

Companies such as Lutron are developing solutions for commercial and residential demand, including what they call innovative, intuitive, reliable, human-centric solutions for lighting control, automated shading, and integrated software. That means more flexibility of lighting systems beyond dimming control. Technology such as tunable white and dynamic light spectrum is making homes, workplaces and public places more comfortable, efficient and productive, Perich said.

Smart lighting is already beginning to benefit facilities in multiple ways, and electrical contractors are poised to be part of the solution.

Smart Lighting Photo Credit: iStock / Svetabelaya
Photo Credit: iStock / Svetabelaya

No. 1: Increased integration

Once smart lighting controls are in place, facility owners have the opportunity to integrate the lighting with a building’s management system. The need for greater integration offers contractors an opportunity to differentiate themselves, Perich said. ECs that seek training to stay up to date with technology and manufacturers will be poised to serve as integrated systems enablers for lighting customers.

Integration has replaced energy consumption as one of the key drivers for smart lighting, evolving as the market needs have shifted and stabilized. While lighting was once a building’s main energy consumer, LEDs have changed that dynamic. As more buildings converted to LEDs, smart lighting demands lulled. Today, integration of new technologies with wireless lighting controls makes it possible for buildings to provide solutions to a host of problems.

No. 2: Rising customer expectations

It all comes down to customer satisfaction, and today’s customers have high expectations. As the technology gets more ubiquitous and end-users continue to be more technology savvy, their demands increase, said Alberto Pierotti, head of R&D and smart business at LEDVANCE, maker of Sylvania general lighting products.

Today’s building managers and occupants want flexibility and convenience in their lighting as well as the ability to enhance an environment and the occupant moods through controls.

“[Smart lighting] enables contractors to offer dimmability, control and enhanced features without needing to run dimming wires,” Pierotti said.

Users appreciate how quality smart lighting can improve overall mood because the lighting can be personalized, he said. Typically, they will also enjoy energy savings by having more control over the lighting usage and benefit from labor savings because of its easy commissioning.

No. 3: Codes and the IoT

Cortet has a new connected lighting feature that contractors can use during commissioning to give users lighting zones with customizable controls, said David Parrett, Cortet director of product marketing.

ECs can gain from understanding the IoT’s current and future potential.

“There is a huge promise of IoT, which has been in some cases based on high-level rewards most people aren’t realizing,” he said.

For many, that entry point is retrofitting wireless controls.

“I think wireless tech is going to be a game changer for retrofit,” he said. The other driver will be the rebates utilities are offering around lighting controls.

Traditionally, Parrett found only integrators or technology vendors handled wireless controls. That seems to be changing.

“Electrical contractors’ role was to make sure the fixture was wired,” he said. “What’s happening is manufacturers are focusing in on simplicity of installation.”

That means a new opportunity for work with minimal training. However, the number of new IoT or smart lighting products can be overwhelming. That also works in the favor of contractors who have a better understanding of code compliance for lighting control systems and, in some cases, are much more savvy about rebates than anyone else involved in the technology or those using it.

No. 4: Easy installations

Just as commissioning these systems is getting simpler, ECs are taking the classes and programs needed to begin doing the commissioning themselves.

Contractors today can easily use smart lighting as a money-making tool, and the projected growth of the market is huge. In past years, smart lighting was complicated and out of reach for many contractors. Now, there are fewer barriers to entry.

“It is stable, reliable, flexible and easily obtainable,” he said.

Sylvania has technology that is intended to further that accessibility for contractors, Pierotti said, including the Sylvania Smart+ and its portfolio of connected LED lamps, retrofits and panels and the company’s collaboration with Leviton to enable contractors to more easily address any application.

When selling smart lighting, contractors are well-positioned to pitch upgrades to any space with wireless controls to achieve energy and labor savings as well as a better occupant experience. Customers can retrofit private offices for customized control or create flexible lighting plans in open-space environments that can adjust with that space as needs change, and they can configure scenes and occupancy modes in conference rooms to make meetings more productive. Pierotti said schools, too, can enable lighting levels and color-tuning control for optimal learning as well to enhance the classroom experience. Bars and restaurants can create dynamic and colorful scenes, he said, to please their patrons and offer an environment they want to come back to.

“[ECs should] challenge the status quo by using the new technology to easily retrofit a space for a customer to offer dimming and customized controls,” he said. “Think about how being able to offer voice control can help entice current and new customers.”

No. 5: Offering the best technology partners

Choosing systems and providers to work with can be a daunting and confusing task. The overall lighting industry is saturated with a growing number of vendors, and smart lighting is further expanding that number. When evaluating vendors, look for partners that have a history in lighting, Pierotti said. Otherwise, you may end up with unhappy customers.

Retrofits are a great place to start.

“You have opportunity with wireless to add a control node to each fixture,” he said.

In some cases, there can be a grouping of fixtures with a single node, saving money for the customer.

No. 6: System security

Installers face plenty of hurdles. Security is one of them, Parrett said. It can affect the success of a new smart lighting system. While IT departments traditionally had to work with systems integrators exclusively on device security, the proliferation of connected systems is driving conversations with contractors. There will be questions on a system’s security and differences of opinion from IT professionals about how to accomplish that security.

“That requires a little more dialogue between the contractor and the customer’s IT department,” Parrett said.

Contractors who are comfortable with providing guidance will also rise to the top of the industry. The old paradigms are changing because cloud-based networks are replacing the traditional bank of switches that were wired for previous systems.

When it comes down to it, the smartphone is bringing users, installers and technology companies together.

“Everybody is comfortable with mobile devices,” Parrett said. “We do spend some time helping them with connecting an app, navigate the app.”

The app quickly puts contractors or other users in charge of features such as discovering fixtures, creating zones and setting control strategies.

“A lot of people do say that, while LED was the wild west, now it’s controls.”

How much a contractor delves into this frontier depends on its comfort level. Adoption may continue to be gradual for the next few years, but codes are driving adoption.

“I’m a believer that the reason it’s been slow up to now is the complexity,” he said.

Finally, that complexity is lifting.

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