Craig DiLouie, LC, CLCP recently had the opportunity to interview Bruce Bharat, Director of Product Marketing for Acuity Brands for an article about luminaire-integrated controls for tED Magazine.
DiLouie: What types of luminaire-integrated controls are available for LED lighting?
Bharat: Today, it’s possible to purchase commercial, industrial and outdoor LEDs with a large variety of integrated controls such as occupancy sensors and daylight sensors. The capabilities include simple devices that can dim the light level partway through the night, sensors that can be configured and adjusted with mobile phone applications, and intelligent networkable devices that automatically respond to information provided by other devices on the network.
DiLouie: What does it mean when the lighting controller is embedded in luminaires in a space? How does this differ with traditional and centralized-intelligence control approaches? What capabilities become possible, what advantages and disadvantages?
Bharat: Embedding an intelligent, networked control device directly into a luminaire allows owners to unlock a key energy saving feature unique to LEDs, energy efficient dimming, without the complex wiring challenges typically associated with traditional centralized dimming systems. This allows luminaires with embedded networked controls to deliver just the right amount of light exactly when and where it’s needed. Dimmable LEDs installed with embedded networked controls are very powerful when multiple control strategies such as manual dimming control, daylight responsive dimming, and vacancy detection are combined to deliver an efficient, code-compliant solution. The advantages over traditional centralized dimming systems include simpler installation and wiring, and the flexibility to easily change control strategies as needs and space configurations change.
When they were first introduced, the upfront hardware costs for embedded networked controls often outweighed those of traditional controls, and this was seen as a disadvantage even though total installed costs were usually lower. However, prices have come down on embedded controls and electrical engineers and contractors alike have also come to appreciate the added benefits of embedded networked lighting controls.
DiLouie: What does it mean when sensors are embedded in luminaires? How does this differ from traditional approaches where sensors are mounted remotely? What capabilities become possible, what advantages and disadvantages?
Bharat: Embedding sensors directly into luminaires has two advantages over traditional approaches. First, it improves quality of the user experience because more sensors in spaces like rooms, hallways or parking areas can see more accurately and effectively than a single sensor. Second, it improves the granularity of what’s possible with lighting controls. Meaning, light levels in very specific areas, such as above individual work stations, can automatically adjust light levels to accommodate for localized occupancy and daylight conditions.
DiLouie: How would you characterize the trend of miniaturization in lighting controllers and sensors making luminaire integration possible?
Bharat: Miniaturization is critical in the ability to offer luminaire embedded controllers and sensors, since in this type of system the quantity of controllers is most often higher than when using a non-embedded or centralized system. Technology advances and large volume increases have driven down the cost and size of microprocessors, intelligent sensors and the like, which allows manufacturers to more effectively embed intelligence in each luminaire.
DiLouie: What are ideal applications for luminaire-embedded controls?
Bharat: Applications for luminaire-embedded controls can be vast, but some of the most common are commercial indoor spaces, education spaces and manufacturing facilities. In these spaces, embedded controls enhance occupant comfort while also providing flexibility for the largest amount of energy savings through layering of multiple controls strategies (e.g. occupancy, daylight harvesting, task tuning, etc.). Additionally, embedded controls allow the user to modify the space should the use of the space change with their needs.
DiLouie: The DLC now has a Qualified Products List for Networked Lighting Controls. What impact do you see the QPL having on demand for networked lighting controls?
Bharat: We are excited about how much easier it is for customers, utilities and contractors to select lighting control products based on independent performance qualifications by the DLC. When things are easier to buy, usually the demand increases.
DiLouie: Why should electrical distributors recommend and select these systems? If luminaires and controls are integrated in a single package from a single manufacturer, are there advantages to ease of doing business?
Bharat: Networked control systems are often simplified when deploying luminaire embedded controls, lowering the quantity of installed devices and, therefore, lowering the total installation cost. When a single manufacturer is able to provide all components of the package, this helps ensure compatibility at all levels and simplifies service and support by providing a single point of contact.
DiLouie: What challenges exist for electrical distributors to properly recommend and select these systems? How can they mitigate these challenges?
Bharat: Specific system knowledge can create challenges when matching the required components to the desired operation by the engineer and/or end user. This can be mitigated through manufacturer-led trainings, installation of interactive displays in distributor buildings and manufacturer system design guides.
DiLouie: What protocols are popular for these systems, and how can distributors navigate the sometimes-confusing choices, particularly on the wireless side?
Bharat: 0-10V control has seen a dramatic resurgence, given the rapid adoption of LED luminaires and the pre-existing knowledge base of 0-10V from the fluorescent era. DMX has also become more popular as manufacturers begin to offer color tuning as an option. However, both of these technologies have been around for decades and the state-of-the-art systems employ new languages that can speak color and intensity through both wired and wireless mediums. There are many existing wireless technologies that we use in our everyday lives, Bluetooth® for instance, that we can leverage to unlock a plethora of capabilities in our lighting systems. Selecting established manufacturers who utilize established technologies helps to assure distributors that what they are using will work as they intend.
DiLouie: In one sense, a networked control system is only as good as the software used to configure and manage it. What types of software are available, and what should distributors look for to identify the right software?
Bharat: When software is divorced form the hardware, issues will arise. As lighting control systems become more advanced, we must recognize and design the system as a platform with integrated hardware and software, just as the sensor integrates into the luminaire. When that occurs, capability and functionality increase while complexity, maintenance and defects decrease. A distributor should look for an integrated platform that also offers mobile configuration with an app, or more advanced set up and monitoring via desktop software.
DiLouie: If you could tell all electrical distributors just one thing about luminaire-integrated lighting controls, what would it be?
Bharat: Luminaire integrated lighting controls increase system functionality while having a lower total cost of ownership compared to traditional lighting control systems.
DiLouie: Is there anything else you’d like to add about this topic?
Bharat: Luminaire integrated controls add sensors that, today, largely only affect lighting functions. The sensor of tomorrow, embedded in the light fixture, can collect information to feed into HVAC and security systems, enable indoor positioning and unlock the future of what the IOT promises us. Remember, wherever there are people, there are lights. Wherever there are lights, there is power. The fixture and sensor become the intelligent node that will be the heart of our smart buildings.