Craig DiLouie, LC, CLCP recently had the opportunity to interview Martin Mercier, Marketing Manager, IOT/Connected Systems, Cooper Lighting Solutions. The topic: how electrical distributors can position and sell networked lighting controls.
DiLouie: What are the advantages of incorporating a networked lighting control system (NLC) into an LED upgrade in an existing building for both the electrical distributor and the building owner?
Mercier: For the building owner: With NLC, building owners can manage their lighting equipment remotely or onsite, including lighting schedules and light control. They can track their energy savings in real time to see if they achieve their goals, as well as identify and act on preventative and unpredicted maintenance needs. They can dynamically assign lighting wall stations, motion sensors, and daylight sensors to adapt to the latest floorplan needs or activities.
For electrical distributor: NLC helps distributors service their customers further while generating additional revenues. They offer start-up services to address the lighting fixtures, program accessories to the right group of fixtures, and adjust light levels and schedules. That way, they can also support their customer after the install by providing advice on the system or supplying required parts for maintenance.
The wireless solution helps distributors reduces shelf space versus their wired counterparts. First, little or no communication wire is required. Second, fewer control components are required. This is especially true when using luminaire-level lighting controls (LLLC), where sensors, controls and communication modules are included in the luminaire. A smaller number of ceiling sensors or versions thereof are required for projects. Also, most of the systems include programmable accessories such as wall stations, which reduce the number of different components necessary to keep in inventory.
DiLouie: How would you categorize the various offerings of NLC systems available on the market?
Mercier: At a high level, there are wired networked solutions, such as centralized panel-based relay controller, and distributed system such as DALI communication systems, and power line communication. More recently, manufacturers have launched different types of wireless networked solutions, such as ZigBee and Bluetooth-based systems. In North America, wired solutions are still more prominent with 65-70% of the market, but with the latest innovation in wireless lighting controls, the growth will accelerate faster. As an example, with the simplicity of the Bluetooth app-based commissioning and the growing robustness of the Bluetooth technology, we should see more a broad adoption of wireless systems. The growing availability of integrated sensors in fixtures (LLLC) make wireless systems easier to install, commission and use, resulting in improved installation time and less after-install support from contractors. Additionally, programs such as the Integrated Lighting Campaign from PNNL or the Next Generation Lighting Systems from DOE have helped demonstrate the benefit of such installations by selecting best-in-class products and projects every year.
DiLouie: What application characteristics in an existing building are particularly well suited for recommending an NLC? What should electrical distributors be looking for?
Mercier: Sites with high-power fixtures or fixtures used in 24-hour lighting applications are particularly well-suited, and wireless is perfect for retrofit and renovation projects. Good application examples include office troffers, parking garage luminaires, warehouses, data centers and schools.
Some specific applications such as a hospital’s MRI room can be problematic for wireless due to interference from the highly specialized equipment in the space. High ceiling warehouses and street applications can also be challenging because of the lack of effective motion for the occupancy detectors. But in some states, parking garage and open parking lot motion sensors are mandatory under certain conditions, such as the height of the fixture, which helps growing NLC sales for grouping or reprogramming functionalities.
DiLouie: An electrical distributor wants to recommend an NLC option for an LED upgrade. What thought process (if/then) should the distributor use to scale and target the most appropriate NLC from the categories you described above?
Mercier: If the project is a lighting renovation in which walls won’t be touched, it would be wireless lighting control, and including LLLC would be even better since little or no rewiring is required. With wireless accessories such as battery-powered and kinetic energy wall stations, it is easy to provide additional energy savings and make lighting control simpler for the end-user. Overall, less material and labor are required, reducing total project cost and time. For new construction, contractors will appreciate the labor savings and simplicity to reconfigure the space if needed before closing on the job.
DiLouie: What are the main technological trends in NLC development, and what problems are they solving to make this option more attractive?
2- APP based controls
3- Advanced sensing for beyond lighting functionalities such as IAQ, RTLS and Space optimization
4- Building Management System (BMS) lighting integration with BACnet
5- Circadian rhythm using fixture white tuning
DiLouie: What specific market and industry trends are pushing NLCs towards being more attractive for LED upgrades in existing construction?
Mercier: There are many application benefits to the NLC features, especially for spaces that need to be reconfigured over time such as schools, warehouses and hospitals. For healthcare, flexibility in space modeling was one of the lessons learned from the recent pandemic. Lighting grouping and wall station assignment is part of the requirement to succeed.
DiLouie: What do electrical distributors need to know to recommend and sell NLCs effectively? What education is required, what level of education is required, and what are the benefits of investing in this education?
Mercier: Education from industry organizations and the manufacturers is key to understanding NLC and its latest evolution. Contractors working on lighting control-related projects, especially those involving communication to a server, need to completely understand the technology and outcomes related to specific customer needs. Distributors need to understand the basics of new technologies such as programmable Bluetooth app-based solutions, advanced data sensors offered with cloud-based systems, upgradable and standardized luminaire sensor sockets, asset management, metering, application program interface (API) standards, etc. The connected systems are evolving rapidly, and manufacturers can help distributors stay current. Same for the installer, who needs to test and validate system functionalities. For example, basic network knowledge is key when the gateway connects to the internet to commission the lighting equipment. Sometimes lighting equipment is installed before IT-related equipment, which can cause challenges on its own. Installers, such as electrical contractors, need to find a solution such as installing a temporary “hot spot” through a mobile network device which requires basic network/router knowledge. Also be aware that some systems may “self-commission” when the luminaire has communication to either a cellular or area controllers. This may include control strategies put in place for the device(s) integrated into the luminaire that are cloud-based. This is especially true for large city-wide installations like roadway applications with a large footprint and many light points.
DiLouie: What role do rebates and the DesignLights Consortium’s Qualified Products List for NLCs play in the market? Are there other external factors, such as perhaps adherence to retrofit requirements in energy codes, that play a role in whether an NLC is deployed in an LED upgrade?
Mercier: Utility programs that offer NLC incentives, usually based upon DLC NLC QPL, facilitate buying down these control systems whereby some are prescriptive incentives and others offer design support. These incentives are intended to generate deeper energy savings and, in many cases, exceed the latest energy code requirements when the new construction or renovation triggers code compliance. In these cases, the utility incentive will offset the added cost for the control systems, improving the ROI of an LED upgrade using NLCs.
DiLouie: What methods can electrical distributors use to project energy savings resulting from an NLC so as to estimate return on investment?
Mercier: It is important that electrical distributors know the program requirements from their local utility incentive programs. There have been many pilot programs with research reports completed across North America that include evaluation of the savings potential of NLCs. The return on investments (ROI) vary based upon the application, use of daylighting, area’s occupancy levels, etc. DLC has provided support for many of the projects who support the development of these programs facilitating commonality among programs.
DiLouie: In a hypothetical project, the NLC does not result in a sufficient ROI. What is the play here for selling in part based on data generation, and how can electrical distributors help customers build a business case based on applying the data to a financial benefit?
Mercier: Since lighting is everywhere, networked lighting can be used as a conduit for valuable information. The lighting industry is now involved in more connected building initiatives and is thinking beyond connected lighting assets. A decade ago, lighting manufacturers introduced luminaires with radio devices such as the Zigbee local wireless network, 4G cellular communication, etc., to control luminaires remotely, which created a network of lighting-related devices. With the digitalization of our customer assets, an opportunity has developed to contribute even more by leveraging the lighting infrastructure upgrading to LEDs. This is when networked lighting gets into the Internet of Things (IoT) and starts being implemented into smart building projects to connect things to other building assets such as shade for control using lighting sensor daylighting information, HVAC using motion sensor for additional energy savings, and RTLS using Bluetooth sensors to tell where assets are. The value of the data provided by these advanced systems sensors is typically higher than energy savings provided by the system. Distributors can assist customers in looking forward to consider the advantages of incorporating a long-term phased NLC strategy that ultimately provides lower system cost while “future-proofing” their investment. When ongoing services that directly impact operating expenses are part of the cost, this can erode the ROI of the NLC, especially when a “do nothing” approach is not considered. These services can result in lost energy or reduced operational savings if they are not maintained when a “do nothing” option is adopted.
DiLouie: If you could tell the entire electrical industry just one thing about applying NLCs to existing buildings, what would it be?
Mercier: There are many opportunities to support local contractors with education, project planning, start-up and support once deployed.
Contractors must learn how to install products that are low DC voltage and require different types of cables. Or product with tunable white lighting through dual switches for color tuning. Or need to install luminaires that communicate to programmable wall stations with ZigBee mesh network or through Ethernet cables. The local codes are evolving rapidly, as are the system technologies. Manufacturers can help provide customer education while also generating a further stream of revenue by being a local resource for the life of the project.