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Lighting control systems: innovation and application

Nearly 40 percent of all power used in commercial buildings is consumed by artificial lighting (Gelfo, 2013), so it’s only natural that lighting control systems are becoming more critical. Thanks to innovations such as widespread LED adoption and software-driven control systems, building owners and managers are realizing more benefits from automated lighting controls than ever before.

“Lighting is one of the simplest ways to conserve energy and lower costs,” said Michael Lunn, senior product manager for Eaton’s lighting division. “Today’s lighting control systems can provide significant resource gains and cost savings, as well as new design flexibility and other benefits.”


Basic lighting control systems and LEDs


At a basic level, lighting control systems are now required for most buildings per energy code. These systems, which include features like occupancy and daylight sensors, reduce energy usage and operating costs by driving lighting to the lowest possible levels suitable for the space and its occupants. A range of control system–from individual controls that focus on a single fixture, to controls that address an entire room, to large networks controlled from a high-end computer–are available to address every type of application.

LEDs provide an additional benefit, because they are a higher-efficacy light source than traditional light sources such as incandescent, halogen and high intensity discharge (HID). By providing more lumens per watt per square foot, LEDs reduce overall lighting power consumption while greatly improving illumination design flexibility and aesthetics. They are also inherently dimmable and more efficient than fluorescent lighting.

“The widespread adoption of LEDs gives us the ability to bring entire spaces like corridors down to a low light level when less light is needed,” said Lunn. “In contrast, with the old ‘night light’ scheme characterized by pockets of light and darkness, we can easily program LEDS to dim or switch off at night and come back on when people enter the hallway or room.”


Advanced lighting control systems


The first network systems hit the market more than 30 years ago, but today’s versions are a far cry from those earliest renditions. Advanced lighting control systems are evolving rapidly in step with a growing need for energy efficient solutions and flexible designs.

“The definition of an ‘advanced’ lighting control system has changed even in the past several years,” said Lunn. “Previously, a suitable qualifier might have been a network that controlled multiple lights. But the granularity of advanced lighting control systems has improved tremendously. Now, we can control a single fixture in a completely different way from the next fixture.” Advanced lighting control systems can also continuously monitor daylight and manage dimming adjustments, including manual dimming. In addition, features like wireless platforms and webpage front end software are becoming more widely available in response to a world that’s quickly going all-digital.

Maintenance costs are lower as well. “These systems offer what I call ‘back-of-house’ benefits," said Lunn. “Because they’re software-driven, maintenance costs are far lower. For example, a facility manager or building owner can push strategies out to an entire system, eliminating the need for an electrician or other third-party contractor to walk around with a ladder, flipping switches for a high hourly rate.” Helpful resources like power metering data also allow companies to perform self-audits and boost energy efficiency.


Applications of today’s lighting control systems


While most commercial buildings now require at least a basic lighting control system, there are still spaces where the benefits are most startlingly clear. “They’re in parking garages, stairwells, hospitals, schools, subways, even prisons–any space where the lights can’t be completely shut off due to safety reasons,” said Lunn.

In addition, integrated lighting controls provide maximum flexibility for individual tasks or user preference. Each light fixture can be individually controlled so that two people sitting side by side can have their unique preferences met simultaneously.

Integrated LED control solutions can also tackle energy use and lighting design aesthetics in spaces that were previously difficult to light in an efficient way. Large or awkward spaces benefit from a mix of integrated lighting controls, tuning and fixture grouping schemes. Major energy efficiency gains and design benefits can be realized in applications including high bay lighting, outdoor and site lighting, and some specialty lighting applications, such as health care lighting.


Looking ahead


More innovation is in store for lighting control systems as the field continues to grow. For example, in the near future, experts will be able to pull the model number, color temperature, lumen package and other valuable information about a fixture, just by logging into a remote system. “From a service perspective, this is huge,” said Lunn. “We’ll be able to talk with customers on the phone, locate the fixture with the problem, pull all of the pertinent information–even when the item was manufactured and who signed off on it–test it live without going on-site, and send a replacement if needed.

“We’ve all got the wireless bug,” he said. “Part of the market shift goes back to that culture change, but in today’s world, intuitive lighting control systems are just a smart buy.”