Software plays a central role in commissioning, operating, and analyzing data collected by networked lighting control systems. As connected lighting becomes more popular, manufacturers continue to make their software simpler, more robust, more portable, and require less training. Software is a major touch point regarding the lighting control system serving either as a platform or an integral part of implementing the Internet of Things in commercial buildings.
Using software, we can designate control zones, assign network nodes (control points) to the zones, and establish schedules and profiles. Control profiles are essentially sequences of operation, typically time slots in a schedule featuring adjustable variables for luminaire control—e.g., vacancy sensor time delays, daylight response set-points, manual overrides, etc. The solution may feature default energy code-compliant profiles, which can be adjusted depending on the controls narrative, or specific sequence of operations, for the given project.
The ease and extent of required commissioning often depends on the specific system, as these solutions are highly individualized. For example, some systems require manual input or bulk uploading of control points, while some also support auto-discovery. Some manufacturers have simplified commissioning software into mobile apps that don’t require significant training, broadening access from manufacturer agents to more generally trained professionals such as electrical contractors.
When considering commissioning, the key is simplicity, portability, and scalability. How easy is it to customize control profiles? How easy is it to add lights and control points to the network? Does the complexity of the system require a commissioning party with some wireless or device networking expertise?
Many networked lighting systems are designed to operate without frequent adjustment. If changes are needed, a contractor may be called in to adjust the system using software loaded on a mobile app. This is a fairly typical scenario for operating connected lighting in small and medium-sized projects.
If the system is centralized, more common in larger projects, operating software resides either on an onsite server of the Cloud. This allows dramatically expanded capabilities that require a skilled operator. The operator can modify control profiles and potentially a wide range of luminaire control variables to tune control strategies, make local lighting highly responsive to environmental conditions, and accommodate space changes. The operator can also implement strategies that go beyond energy codes and basic ON/OFF/dim, zoning, and scheduling functions, such as task and color tuning. Some software allows operators to manage their lighting using a graphical user interface, potentially using floor plans onto which lights and control points are overlaid.
Operating software varies in number and type of bells and whistles, so be sure to choose a solution that works for the application, while keeping it as simple as possible. Ensure the solution is easy to use, reliable, secure, and low maintenance; kept up to date with security patches; and backed by a supportive manufacturer.
Centralized networked lighting control offers extraordinary potential for measuring and monitoring, taking its value proposition beyond basic energy savings. Measuring generates data such as kWh in time increments and potentially kW and energy savings by control strategy, producing information that can be used for a variety of purposes, such as tuning control strategies, billing, energy savings verification, etc. Monitoring reveals luminaire status in real time and enables automatic alerts if a component requires maintenance.
This is all amazingly powerful, but now things get even more interesting. With a connected lighting system, we have new luminaires (LED), sensors in most spaces, intelligence, communication, software, and data storage. This infrastructure offers potential to incorporate additional sensors to generate more information in the control software (e.g., occupancy traffic patterns and thermal mapping), incorporate location data for internal beaconing or wayfinding, and/or use the raw sensor data with third-party partner software to improve business processes. This makes networked lighting control systems a simplified pathway to implementing Internet of Things strategies in both indoor and outdoor applications.
It’s under control
While the LED revolution changed everything, another revolution was quietly in the works, the digitalization of lighting. After decades of fixed, dumb systems, the industry is now becoming focused on software, networking, and wireless and digital communication. And further, positioning itself as a platform or important integrated element in the Internet of Things. As this occurs, get ready for everything to change again, possibly even more dramatically, from technology to business models.
During this transition, lighting practitioners should become familiar with networked lighting control systems. The DesignLights Consortium offers a Qualified Products List listing a large number of solutions with features and capabilities identified in a standardized format. The DLC also offers access to the results of its first networked lighting controls energy savings study, which found average 47 percent lighting energy cost savings. The Lighting Controls Association offers free courses on networked and wireless controls. And a growing number of rebates are rewarding installation in existing buildings, often tying into LED luminaire rebates.
This article was originally published in LD+A