Everything's Under Control: Networked Control Software

Networked lighting controls are intelligent (computing-based) and programmable systems in which devices communicate to enact control strategies. Each control point in the network has a unique address, which can be assigned control strategies individually or in groups.

This approach enables layered and complex control strategies that maximize energy cost savings, software-based zoning and rezoning, simplified wired or wireless connectivity, potential energy measurement and monitoring, and integration with internet of things (IoT) solutions. According to the DesignLights Consortium (DLC), networked lighting control systems deliver 47 percent average lighting-energy savings, making these solutions attractive to utilities offering a growing number of rebates.

Though penetration traditionally has been low, the pairing of networked control and LED lighting offers a powerful value proposition. If market barriers are addressed, the U.S. Department of Energy forecasts that half of lamps in the commercial sector will be connected within 10 years. Increased demand will encourage electrical contractors to become more familiar with networked systems and, notably, their software, which enables commissioning, user adjustment of the system and potentially data analysis.

More specifically, software enables technicians to start up and program the system, including creating control zones, incorporating control points (nodes), assigning these nodes to the zones, establishing schedules and control profiles (sequences of operation), creating users/access levels, and calibrating sensors. It also enables operators to manage the system, including changing control profiles (e.g., temporary changes based on holidays or special events), and may provide users some control of local lighting. If the networked control system is centralized, the software may record and display energy use and other variables, such as occupancy and backup data and event logs, and generate service notifications.

“Software should be easy to use, designed for a fast learning curve, and offer 24/7 access to manufacturer support and online user guides,” said Kendell Clark, commercial product manager, Lutron Electronics, Coopersburg, Pa. “The best end-user interface is both comprehensive and flexible, enabling installers and end-users to easily access the features they need on their project, but not overwhelming them with information that goes well beyond the scope of their sequence of operations.”

Commissioning

Traditionally, lighting-control-system commissioning software was under the control of manufacturers through trained agents or representatives. The software was complex and required special training. As energy codes require more detailed control strategies, the market has broadened, including medium-sized and small buildings. For these projects, ECs may play a role in starting up the system. In response, a number of manufacturers have begun shifting commissioning to simpler software apps on mobile devices, said Paul Matthews, product marketing manager, Osram, Wilmington, Mass.

“With these light-management-system commissioning apps, the workflows have been simplified,” he said. “This makes commissioning a task that can be performed by a larger group of people with more general training. In turn, this lowers the barrier for entry and enables scalability.”
Jamie Britnell, director of product management, Synapse Wireless Inc., Huntsville, Ala., said the software should be simple and flexible, enabling technicians to add control points to the software program using different methods.

As each node is individually addressable in the network, each has its own MAC ID. The traditional ways to add nodes are to manually enter MAC IDs or perform a bulk upload using a CSV file. More recently, the software may support auto-discovery of control points, which streamlines commissioning while enabling manual entry as a backup. In addition, stand-alone mobile apps may be used to scan bar or QR codes on control points to get MAC ID and device information, and they may be able to pull GPS information, as well.

“When looking for commissioning capability in software, there are some fundamental things a technician should look for,” Britnell said. “How does the solution reduce complexity of adding devices to the network? What kind of feedback and customization is available through the workflow of adding lights to the network? Does the workflow modify the system as lights are being added?”

The skill set required to start up a networked control system will depend on the project. The software should make it as simple as possible, though some wireless communication and device networking expertise­—skills that are relatively new in the lighting world—is useful for troubleshooting problems.

Operation

Networked control systems may be centralized, enabling system operators to globally manage their lighting and collect data about its operation. This requires an operator trained on the particular system and its software. This type of solution is more common in larger projects. Other networked control systems are decentralized, which is more common in medium-sized and smaller projects. In these installations, control profiles may be set and left alone until changes are needed, which may be accomplished by a local contractor using a mobile device.

“Some customers want full control, including remote access and a web-based user interface,” Matthews said. “Others have different requirements that make access to the system via software a requirement only when changes are needed. Either way, the software should be simple and intuitive for specific use cases readily available.”

Centralized networked control systems offer the most robust capabilities using a customer user interface. Residing on an on-site server or in the cloud, the operating software enables customization of control system behavior, adjustment of settings to tune control strategies and address space changes, and implementation of control strategies that go beyond code, such as color and task tuning. It should accommodate all of the owner’s needs and applications, and it should be reliable, secure and simple to use.

The majority of centralized systems allow control profiles—typically blocks of time in the schedule featuring adjustable variables for luminaire control. Default energy code-compliant control profiles may be provided, which can be adjusted based on the project’s controls narrative. Examples of variables include occupancy sensor time delays, set-points for daylight-responsive controls, and manual overrides. Depending on the software and what the owner needs, the number of variables can be numerous.

“The biggest changes in network lighting control systems have centered on the additional requirements being supported beyond just the basic lighting requirement of on/off/dim, zones and schedules,” Britnell said. “With Title 24, ASHRAE 90.1 2016, and DLC Networked Lighting Controls 2.0 requirements, advanced energy-saving strategies are being implemented within the lighting control software.”

The software may provide a graphical user interface (GUI) that includes floor plans typically uploaded as JPEG or bitmap files. After importing, luminaires and control points are overlaid. This displays the control system visually and may provide a graphical interface for creating control zones and possibly luminaires. In many cases, the GUI is used to display operating data, one of the advanced capabilities of networked control systems.

GUIs enable visual management of the lighting system.
GUIs enable visual management of the lighting system. Credit: Lutron Electronics

Data output

The ability of centralized networked lighting control systems to collect information takes its value proposition far beyond energy cost savings.

Detailed energy information: The GUI typically displays energy use in kilowatt-hours in different time increments, luminaire status in near-real time, alarms and error messages, and demand response condition. Some show kilowatts.

“In recent years, we’ve seen tremendous advances in lighting control software that is specifically designed to benefit the user,” Clark said. “The most significant advancement is software that not only provides data but makes that data immediately actionable. One example is software that delivers energy savings by strategy. A contractor or end-user can immediately see where the lighting control system is making the most impact and can adjust system settings accordingly.”

Automated system response: The software algorithm in the intelligent control system can adjust performance based on inputs from sensors and connected systems.

“Even better is software that monitors and collects system data, and makes automatic adjustments or sends proactive alerts that help mitigate issues before they become problems,” Clark said. “Solar-responsive shading working with window-based daylight sensors combine location-based programming with real-time environmental assessment to automatically adjust shades, reduce glare, and enhance comfort and productivity with no action required from the people in the space.”

Software uses raw sensor data to generate information that goes beyond utility for lighting management, such as occupancy patterns.
Software uses raw sensor data to generate information that goes beyond utility for lighting management, such as occupancy patterns. Credit: Lutron Electronics

Beyond lighting, the centralized networked lighting control system and its software provide a platform, using application programming interfaces for integration with other building systems and contribution to IoT solutions that can add extraordinary value. Networked lighting control systems already have considerable assets installed: computing power, connectivity, bandwidth and numerous sensors providing a bird’s eye view of spaces. Some systems already enable software to generate occupancy, traffic pattern and thermal mapping data. Location data can be incorporated, which enables internal beaconing or wayfinding.

“Occupancy data in combination with some of the new software suites recently made available can be used to determine if a space is under- or overutilized,” Matthews said. “When aggregated over time, occupancy data can be made into reports giving new actionable intelligence that helps building owners see how space utilization can be improved. It also allows company owners to gather insights on improving productivity.”
Matthews added that even greater value and IoT expansion will be delivered through third-party partnerships. In one scenario, the networked control system delivers raw sensor data such as thermal couple readings, occupancy data, air quality data, etc., which third-party software packages can analyze to optimize overall building efficiency and business processes.

The future is control

Controls have traditionally been difficult for contractors and distributors, but they are increasingly standard on projects due to energy codes, which are becoming detailed in control requirements. This, in turn, makes networked control more attractive.

Manufacturers, meanwhile, have made great strides in control software, simplifying commissioning and programming, offering solutions geared to varying levels of operations and operating skill, and providing robust capabilities. The next step is manufacturers incorporating IoT applications into their software, which may be revolutionary and create entirely new value propositions for lighting control.

“As lighting solutions become more advanced, additional capabilities are being added that allow contractors and distributors to offer value-added services,” Britnell said. “With power monitoring and automated alerts/notifications, and with emerging IoT technologies, these channel partners can begin to offer monitoring services, break/fix, and/or moves/add/changes to their portfolio. ‘Lighting as a service’ is one service-oriented innovation occurring within these segments of the channel.”

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