This article, authored by Craig DiLouie, LC, was published in the November 2014 issue of tED Magazine. Reprinted with permission.
Lighting controls are devices and systems that turn lighting ON/OF or raise/lower output according to need. Over the past 10 years, these functions have become increasingly automated to save energy in commercial buildings, with demand focused on new construction due to energy codes. More recently, lighting controls began to offer advanced features such as onboard intelligence, allowing independent decision-making and addressability within a scalable lighting control network. Radio-frequency (RF) wireless communication is increasing penetration of even sophisticated lighting control solutions in existing buildings. Some LED companies are now bringing automation, intelligence/addressability and wireless communication together into lighting packages with smart luminaires or lamps as the platform for implementing light and control.
“There has been so much evolution in this area over the past several years, with the emergence of LED lighting and the increased interest in controllability of lighting perhaps taking the front position,” says Carlos Villalobos, director of product marketing for WattStopper. “Specific to indoor lighting control, among the top three trends certainly would be the continuing evolution of ever-stronger code requirements such as multilevel lighting reduction, plug load control and performance monitoring. There is also increasing market demand for flexible control technologies such as wireless and control embedded within the light source.”
“Electrical distributors that grasp the value of controls and educate themselves as well as their customers on the value of advanced product features will see increased sales as a result,” says Joe Briscoe, product division manager for PLC Multipoint. “Understanding that just about every lighting project has some requirement for controls and quickly matching the appropriate controls to the application will increase customer satisfaction.”
The big driver in the market continues to be commercial building energy codes. Currently, more than 10 states have adopted a code at least as stringent as the ASHRAE/IES 90.1-2010 energy standard, which requires multilevel control throughout the interior spaces of a commercial building. Many other states maintain codes based on the previous generation of 90.1, which also contains strict control requirements focused on automatic shutoff. As energy codes require smaller, more precise control zoning within indoor spaces and greater controllability across the board, demand has increased for more powerful control capabilities in systems that are easy to specify, install and use.
“Simplicity and saving money rule,” says Tom Hinds, product portfolio manager for Cree, Inc., which entered the controls market early in 2014 with its SmartCast system. “Lighting controls don’t need to be complicated; it’s proven that people won’t adopt if they are.”
As a result, manufacturers are unveiling a growing number of products that feature automatic setup and devices that accommodate various wiring challenges (e.g., optional neutral sensors for applications where a grounded neutral is present or not). Further, the appeal of RF wireless is growing in new construction by reducing wiring requirements.
Economics and project requirements driven by energy codes, Briscoe says, are continuing to drive demand toward room-level rather than building control solutions. Villalobos points out that these are distinctive markets with different needs, with demand for building-level control driven by owners interested in LEED certification, achieving high-performance building goals or integrating multiple building systems into a single sophisticated control system. The good news, both agree, is that intelligent room-level control packages are now available that can be networked in a scalable manner into a building lighting control system based on need.
“Modular in architecture, some distributed control solutions enable room-level control while still providing a path to scale to a building-level solution in the future,” Villalobos says. “While not every customer needs a building-wide, sophisticated control system today, many may benefit from technology solutions that empower them to scale on their own timetables.”
Networking controls requires addressability, which takes the technology into the digital realm with its various potential benefits including control zoning and rezoning using software, zoning as small as individual luminaires, automatic setup and onboard intelligence. It enables two-way communication, allowing devices to share information and produce data that can be fed to a central point for analysis. And it allows interaction between users and their lighting, giving them the ability to adjust light and other environmental conditions, such as temperature, using mobile devices.
“The biggest trend we’re seeing in the lighting control space is the increasing demand for individually addressed controlled lighting that also yields data,” says Hinds. “However, there’s still a lot of work to be done regarding how this data can be best used to drive more efficiency back into the building.”
Digital lighting control systems are traditionally hardwired but are now increasingly available with RF wireless communication—a technology combination that Hinds calls the next generation of digital lighting control.
Briscoe says, “Customers and contractors have become accustomed to control wiring and the issues related to digital systems. This comfort level has led to a larger acceptance of those systems. We’re seeing an evolution of wireless controls similar to other technical advancements. Some products are being developed as open systems using protocols such as EnOcean or ZigBee, while other products are either using proprietary protocols or custom configurations of existing open protocols. This is allowing for quicker development.”
In the existing buildings market, lighting controls can produce significant energy cost savings but are more challenging because, like many LED projects, they tend not to lend themselves to cookie cutter solutions. However, one traditional challenge—the economics, disruption and, in some cases, lack of feasibility of new wiring—has been countered by the development of RF wireless lighting control solutions.
Wireless has grown in popularity as a means of introducing lighting automation to existing buildings, but is also proving attractive in new construction as well. “Realizing the benefits of these technologies in retrofit situations makes it easier to migrate these solutions into new construction,” Villalobos says. “It results in reduced cost of construction, less use of copper, and shorter install times.” He adds that significant utility rebates are available that can reduce cost of lighting controls in both new and existing buildings.
And increasingly, automatic lighting controls are being coupled with LED luminaires and lamps. Says Hinds: “LED technology has a significant advantage over incumbent technologies because LEDs are fully dimmable. Many LED luminaires include 0-10V dimming as a standard option because LEDs provide full control of the light output through continuous dimming without stressing the LED—there’s no reason to not include 0-10V dimming as a standard.” As a result, advanced lighting controls are predicted to be even more common in an LED future.
Final word: “Take advantage of the products that are available and the expertise each manufacturer provides,” Briscoe advises distributors. “Demanding the best for your customers will ensure a successful solution.”