May 1, 2019

The business case for controls, beyond energy

By Gary Meshberg

Quality lighting has always been subjective, defined as the intersection of user preferences and best design practices. Traditionally, it focused on light sources, luminaires and optics—visual comfort, space perception and so on. The proliferation of the LED light source and resulting closer relationship between lighting and controls, however, offers a powerful new tool for lighting quality.

Again, looking at tradition, lighting controls were initially regarded solely for the function of turning a light source ON and OFF. When dimming capability was developed, it was often reserved to specialized spaces such as meeting rooms and other social spaces. Later, automating these outputs to reduce energy consumption became practical and then mandated by a majority of commercial building energy codes.

The inherent controllability of the LED light source means that the majority of LED products are dimmable standard without upcharge or as a standard option. Incorporating networked lighting control points means systems are available that are highly responsive to the use of the space and able to generate operating and space-use data. Both of these capabilities have enormous implications not only for energy savings and space utilization but for provisioning quality lighting—illumination delivering user satisfaction and owner benefits that go far beyond light levels and kilowatt-hours.

The overriding benefit is satisfied users and an owner regarding lighting as an asset rather than a cost-driven commodity. Looking at the venerable $3/$30/$300 formula—which provides a rule of thumb for utilities/real estate/employee cost to operate one sq ft of commercial building space—improving space utilization and productivity just a little can yield far greater economic outcomes than even a big reduction in energy costs. Technology has evolved to the point where we can begin to add $3,000 to the formula, which is revenue generated by the business.

SO WHAT DOES networked lighting control have to do with quality lighting? Here are three major ways in which the two are now linked:

Color control: Dimming enables color output control that is adaptive to space design, occupant preferences, and merchandise changes; adapts to daylight; dims from cool to warm similar to incandescent when needed; and is otherwise able to play a role in humancentric lighting approaches supportive of human wellness.

Visual comfort: Giving personal dimming control to users allows them to adjust ambient lighting to personal preference. Arguably, achieving preferred lighting conditions and the act itself of having control of light levels both contribute to satisfaction. Dimming is also valuable when installed LED luminaires produce unexpected direct glare. Dimming can help minimize this glare.

Actionable information: Networked lighting control systems consist of an intelligent network of individually addressable control points. This is useful for implementing multiple, layered energy-saving control strategies, with energy savings being where return on investment begins. These savings can be accelerated via integration with other building systems, such as occupancy sensors triggering the HVAC system.

If the system is centralized, sensor data can be fed to a central server or the Cloud for software-based analytics. Additional sensors, badge scan, calendars and Wi-Fi can be tied to the system to produce greater operating data usable by the lighting control software or thirdparty software. Such connectivity and data offer the potential to unlock extraordinary new value and promote quality lighting.

THIS LATTER INTERSECTION between controls and quality lighting is a big and expanding world of opportunity that includes the Internet of Things. Here are three specific ways networked lighting control connectivity and data promote environmental quality:

Maintenance: Continuous monitoring supported by automatic alarms and notifications ensures rapid and efficient maintenance response. This enhances lighting quality by helping the owner to make sure all lighting is operational. By monitoring light levels, owners can ensure minimum light levels are continuously provided by a light source that may fail by lumen depreciation, and anticipate end of useful product life.

Understanding the user: By monitoring light levels in an environment where users have control over their lights, owners can gain insights into user preferences, which can be valuable for future lighting designs.

Beyond light: Some lighting control software leverages sensor-generated data to generate occupancy pattern profiles and thermal maps. Occupancy patterns can be analyzed to better manage space utilization, improve efficiencies of operations such as cleaning, and gain valuable insight for future building designs. Thermal mapping can be used by owners to better balance HVAC loads while enhancing comfort by ensuring the right temperature and light are provided to each space.

These capabilities dramatically multiply when the networked lighting control system is integrated into a building management system and/or the Internet of Things. Now we’re at a much higher level of leveraging data for business outcomes, from monitoring how many people are in line for rides at an amusement park and sharing average wait times with visitors via an app, to assigning RFID tags to critical hospital equipment such as wheelchairs and hospital carts and passing the signal through luminaires to apps helping staff locate the equipment.

In short, data can be used to determine user behavior and preferences, educate owners on this behavior and preferences, and ensure building systems are delivering on them. All while measuring and benchmarking the results and informing future design decisions. Potential results include improvements to environmental quality, user satisfaction, owner appreciation of user wants, process efficiencies and cost reduction.

By producing evidence of user desires and satisfying them while being able to measure the result, the idea of quality becomes less theoretical and far more actionable as a business goal.

IT IS ARGUABLE that lighting controls have earned a place in quality lighting practice alongside equipment such as well-constructed luminaires with superior optics. Combining the two provides the right tools while also offering opportunities for additional data-producing sensors, badges and Wi-Fi. While the Internet of Things is still developing, networked lighting control has arrived and stands ready to deliver tangible benefits today, from energy savings to promoting quality lighting. The controls adage used to be: A good lighting design includes a good controls design. Now it’s that plus: The smarter the luminaires, the smarter the building, the smarter the business.


Gary Meshberg

Gary Meshberg

Gary Meshberg, LC, LEED AP, is chair of the Lighting Controls Association and director of sales for Encelium Technology. He also chairs the IES Lighting Commissioning Committee. Craig DiLouie, LC, acting education director for the Lighting Controls Association, also contributed... More info »