Trends in Lighting Controls

Building owners and facility managers are becoming increasingly aware of the cost savings and reduced energy consumption benefits of lighting control technology, including occupancy sensors that are most effective where there is constant traffic, timed switches based on elapsed time or programmed according to specific schedules, dimming controls, or a combination of these options.

For example, according to the California Energy Commission, lighting controls can generate typical energy savings of 35 to 45 percent in commercial and institutional buildings. In a test at the Florida Solar Energy Center, which used electronic dimming ballasts, open paracube troffers, specular reflectors and T8 lamps, consumption for lighting on an average workday was cut from 157 watts to 70 watts. Lockheed Martin, according to the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power Web site, cut energy use by 75 percent after applying daylighting and dimmable fluorescent lighting. And TRW installed occupancy sensors in 8,000 rooms at its Redondo Beach, Calif., campus and cut annual energy bills by $1.3 million. In addition to reducing lighting consumption by 50 percent in existing buildings and by a minimum of 35 percent in new facilities, lighting controls can provide load-shedding savings for users.

What's new?

People want more from lighting controls, such as user-friendliness and adaptability, energy efficiency, and good-quality light. State and federal codes are driving some of these changes. California Title 14, for example, calls for automatic lighting controls in spaces, such as commercial buildings, schools and even some retail establishments. According to Thomas Leonard of Leviton Mfg. Co., Little Neck, N.Y., "The goal of these codes is to reduce lighting energy consumption, but they have also changed people's view of lighting controls beyond aesthetics."

The need for efficient lighting and control is also driving advances in occupancy sensors and larger-scale fluorescent control systems. "Self-adjusting, adaptive controls are replacing manual dials and eliminating multiple trips to fine-tune sensor settings," Leonard added.

Wireless systems are gaining ground. It is easy to retrofit existing facilities and homes with wireless technology, which provides users with the convenience of controlling lights from anywhere within the space. "In residential applications, wireless systems can allow the homeowner to turn lighting on from the car before entering the house and even be integrated with garage-door controls," said David Weinstein of Lutron Electronics Co., Coopersburg, Pa.

And in the commercial market, there is an increased demand to integrate dimming and switching functions with occupancy sensors and time controls into a single, whole-building lighting solution. A fully integrated system offers efficiency, enhanced life safety and security, and the energy savings inherent in lighting controls. "An integrated lighting control system can also interface with other systems in the building, such as HVAC, fire alarm, and security systems," Weinstein added.

The concept of daylighting controls, or daylight harvesting, is also rising in popularity and is being partially driven by an interest in incremental energy costs savings provided by the technology. "Increased demand is also being driven by the improved technology in lighting controls and in the wider range of choices of dimming fluorescent ballasts that are now available," said Pete Baselici of Lithonia Lighting, Conyers, Ga.

Daylight harvesting uses daylight and indoor fluorescents to constantly regulate the lights to desired levels. "Once the system is set to the desired parameters, the system will automatically maintain those levels," said Leonard. Anecdotal observations indicate that using daylight harvesting increases productivity and decreases absenteeism.

What's next?

Lighting controls are expected to expand into new applications, such as dimmable table lamps and compact fluorescent lamps. In addition, more choices for consumers in terms of style and options for controlling lights will be introduced. "The more choices that are available to consumers, the more likely they are to become interested in the technology,' predicted Weinstein.

Fluorescent dimming, Leonard said, will continue to gain popularity: "People are realizing that, with the availability and quality of the new dimming ballasts and the wide choice of control devices now on the market, they no longer have to choose between the efficiency of fluorescent lighting and aesthetics."

Also on the horizon is the increased use of new digital addressable lighting interface (DALI) technology. It uses digital signals to control lights and has been used in Europe for the past 10 years. The acceptance here depends on the need to control lighting in individual workspaces. DALI also makes it easier to rezone a lighting system without the expense and trouble of rewiring it; however, DALI systems are limited to 64 addresses. EC

BREMER, a freelance writer based in Solomons, Md., contributes frequently to ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR. She can be reached at 410.394.6966 or by e-mail at

About the Author

Darlene Bremer

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

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