Aug 5, 2021

Weaving non-energy benefits into our codes

By Charles Knuffke

I am writing this column before the end of 2020, and like most of you, I am hopeful that in 2021 we’ll bring back the normalcy we enjoyed before this year came along. But while the way we used to work can seem comfortable, change in our life and in our business is the only constant we can depend on, and so it helps to think through what changes lie ahead in the world of lighting controls. The biggest pivot I see for our industry may surprise you.

For technology companies, a “pivot” means a change in their product or their business model. It is the realization that what they are doing may not be wrong, but long-term success for the company depends on changing its present trajectory. For our industry, the problem we were focused on was how to save lighting energy. The LED revolution, however, changed our problem. So what needs to change? Our energy codes.

As I mentioned in previous columns, I have been based in California most of my career, and for many of those years I’ve presented to anyone willing to listen the lighting and lighting control requirements in the state’s Title 24, Part 6 energy code. Often, these sessions would include the back story of how the California Energy Commission was implemented via the 1974 Warren- Alquist Act. In simple terms, the Act created the Energy Commission and with it our energy code. The act also stated that all requirements in the code had to meet three main principles:

  1. Must be based on readily available technology.
  2. Must “move the needle,” with rules covering a broad range of building and spaces, and without effort being wasted focusing on rarely encountered or unique situations.
  3. Must have a return on investment, demonstrating that they will pay for themselves over a specified time frame from energy cost savings.

ANYONE COMFORTABLE IN BASIC MATH can follow the calculations used to prove the third requirement is met when individuals or groups provide Codes and Standards Enhancement (CASE) or Code Change Proposals to the CEC for consideration: If a proposed change costs X dollars to implement, but reduces Y amount of energy over a period of time which (based on CEC tables) translates to Z dollars in energy savings, does Z/X meet the CEC’s payback requirement?

Since the above simplified equation is based on the energy saved, and with LED lights now the de facto standard for most all applications, there is less lighting energy that can be saved. If your loads are smaller than before, your total savings will be smaller, your payback results will be longer and, at least as far as the CEC’s metric is concerned, possibly no longer worthy of consideration. Energy codes with ROI requirements could be a victim of their own success in driving down the energy needed for new buildings.

The reason for mentioning pivoting at the beginning of this article is because if we can recognize our situation, there is a chance to change it by looking beyond the simple equation.

What we have done in the past is to recognize the energy benefits of controls. What is needed now is to identify how the non-energy benefits (NEBs) of controls can also be included in the calculations. What non-energy benefits are we talking about? Some we’ve been talking about since the earliest days of lighting controls, but others squarely address today’s concerns of power and demand. A couple items to get your creative juices flowing and add to the list:

Power measurement and grid stability. If you are already designing a networked lighting control system for a building, power metering for both lighting and plug loads can often be easily added. While lighting is a smaller load now than it was previously, few loads in buildings can be adjusted automatically in response to need across a wide range in real time the way lighting can. Meanwhile, measuring plug loads can ensure infrequently needed loads—e.g., heaters in water dispensers—can be managed. Building designs that provide grid operators the ability to make small adjustments quickly may allow them the latitude they need to avoid larger curtailments in their market.

Operational data. Sites with networked lighting controls can share occupancy data with other building systems using APIs or standard building protocols like BACnet, reducing the hardware needing to be installed since one vendor’s device can feed multiple systems. Newer approaches to lighting controls like luminaire-level lighting controls (LLLC) bring additional technology since they are often equipped with Bluetooth radios that can be used to provide wayfinding functionality or space utilization data.

Security, convenience and enhancement. From the first days when controls were sold, their ability to enhance occupant satisfaction was a key selling point since that could lead to productivity gains, not to mention helping to provide higher light levels for safety when people were in exterior parking areas and walkways. The benefits of controls even extend to people who never enter the building, ensuring that interior lights are turned to a lower level or Off so that neighbors don’t have to deal with fully illuminated buildings in their area adding to light pollution.

FOR MUCH OF LIGHTING CONTROL’S HISTORY, energy efficiency has been understood to be the most critical mission, but these non-energy benefits and others have been an asset to users and facility managers. It is time to look at how we can adjust our metrics to ensure that these benefits are properly recognized in code-making. As this occurs, we can move our construction practices forward to ensure that our facilities can be properly monitored; sequences of operation can be easily updated as needed; problems in the field can be quickly rectified; and data is readily available to improve the overall building operation both as an individual entity and as a member of the overall electrical grid.


Charles Knuffke

Charles Knuffke

For the past 25+ years, Charles Knuffke has worked with engineers, contractors, distributors and owners to design, specify, and start-up Lighting Control Systems for almost every kind of Commercial and Industrial project. After being in sales for most of his career, Charles is... More info »