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LCA RF Wireless Controls Survey

Radio-frequency (RF) wireless lighting controls are control devices such as manual switches, occupancy sensors and photosensors that communicate via radio waves. Eliminating control wiring may reduce total installed cost while facilitating application of automatic lighting controls in existing construction where installing new wiring would be costly or problematic. As investment has favored existing over new nonresidential construction in recent years, RF wireless lighting controls have grown in popularity, with numerous products now available.

To produce a snapshot of attitudes regarding this control technology, the Lighting Controls Association developed a survey, which it distributed to subscribers of the association’s monthly newsletter, lightingCONTROL. There were 622 respondents, of which 395 qualified to take the survey by indicating they recommend, specify or approve lighting controls in U.S. building projects.

The largest response segment (133 respondents) was specifiers, notably lighting designers and consultants (98 respondents) and electrical engineers (35 respondents). A majority of these respondents (72%) play in both the new and existing construction markets; 11% focus on retrofits, and 17% focus on new construction and major renovations.

This whitepaper presents the survey results for this important segment. A summary of results for electrical contractors will be used as the basis for the author’s lighting column in a future issue of ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR.

The specifier results led to five major conclusions:

#1: RF wireless is a popular control option among respondents.

The average respondent indicated that RF wireless lighting controls were:

• discussed/evaluated/recommended in more than 40% of their projects in 2012;
• specified in more than 35% of their projects; and
• approved/installed in more than 30% of their projects.

#2: RF wireless lighting controls are growing in acceptance with respondents.

About two out of three respondents (64.1%) said the percentage of their projects in which RF wireless lighting controls were specified was higher in 2012 than in 2011. Six in 10 (60.7%) said the percentage of their projects in which RF wireless lighting controls were approved/installed was higher in 2012 than in 2011.

#3: Respondents are generally satisfied with product performance.

The average respondent indicated they are more than “somewhat satisfied” with manufacturer customer support, overall product performance, set up/programming, installation and product features for the RF wireless lighting controls that were approved/installed in their projects in 2012.

#4: Occupancy sensors are the most popular RF wireless lighting control type among respondents.

The average respondent indicated that for their 2012 projects in which RF wireless lighting controls were approved/installed, the following equipment types were used:

• RF wireless occupancy sensors in more than 50% of these projects;
• RF wireless photosensors in more than 40%;
• RF wireless second dimmer/switch in room with a single dimmer/switch in more than 30%;
• networking communication devices for RF wireless controls in nearly 40%;
• power output devices (i.e., power packs) for RF wireless controls in about 40%; and
• individual luminaire or addressable RF wireless controls in more than 40%.

#4: RF wireless lighting controls that communicate using manufacturer-based (proprietary) protocols are most popular with respondents.

The average respondent indicated that for their 2012 projects in which RF wireless lighting controls were approved/installed, the following protocols were employed:

• manufacturer-based (proprietary) in more than 50%;
• ZigBee in nearly 30%;
• Z-Wave in more than 10%;
• EnOcean in nearly 30%;
• Bluetooth in more than 10%;
• Wi-Fi in more than 25%; and
• other protocols in more than 15%.

#5: The average respondent regards ease of installation and the ability to eliminate control wiring as the most popular reasons for recommending, specifying and/or approving RF lighting controls.

Respondents were presented a list of possible reasons to recommend, specify and/or approve RF wireless lighting controls in projects in 2012, and asked to rate each on a 1-7 scale with 1 being “not significant,” 4 being “somewhat significant” and 7 being “very significant.”

The average respondent rated “ability to eliminate control wiring” highest (5.8), followed by “ease of installation” (5.5) and interest in reducing overall installed cost for the selected control strategy (5.5). “Confidence in the technology” also ranked as more than “somewhat significant” with a score of 5.0. “Utility rebate” was rated as below “somewhat significant” with a 3.4 score, which may be because the technology was not widely represented in rebate programs in 2012.

#6: The average respondent regards concerns about the integrity of the wireless control signal as the most significant barrier to adoption of the technology.

Respondents were presented a list of possible barriers against adoption of RF wireless lighting controls in their 2012 projects, and asked to rate each on a 1-7 scale with 1 being “not significant,” 4 being “somewhat significant” and 7 being “very significant.”

The average respondent rated “concerns about the integrity of the wireless control signal” as the most significant barrier, with a score of 4.1, indicating it is “somewhat significant.”

All other possible barriers were rated as less than “somewhat significant.”

Conclusions

Overall, the survey results suggest that RF wireless lighting controls are growing in popularity among lighting designers and electrical engineers as a result of the benefits of reduced installed cost and elimination of control wiring, and that these specifiers are generally satisfied with the technology. However, they are somewhat concerned with the reliability of the control signal. Occupancy sensors are the most popular wireless control device, and specifiers are predominantly using controls that operate according to proprietary protocols.

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