Navigant Research Blog

Lighting Systems Seek Simplicity

Jesse Foote — May 6, 2014

Many of the barriers to broader adoption of intelligent lighting control systems are quickly being overcome.  Lower prices for light-emitting diodes (LEDs), which are an excellent fit for intelligent controls, are leading to wide-scale replacements with that lamp technology.  The price for the control systems themselves has also come down dramatically, especially for wireless communication systems that remove the need for potentially costly rewiring work.  The lack of open standards – another previous barrier to lighting control systems – has also been largely addressed by a range of protocols that allow customers to choose one company’s luminaries, another company’s sensors, and perhaps even a third company’s controls with less fear of incompatibility.

One of the largest remaining barriers in this market is complexity.  The complexity of networked and smart lighting control systems limits adoption at every stage of a lighting project.  Architects, engineers, and lighting designers must be well-versed in the technology and the available options in order to select and design a system to fit a given project.  Networked controls also often require a specialist for installation, rather than simply an electrician.  Finally, building owners and managers must be trained in the operation of complex systems and have reasonable concerns that any problems or required changes could become costly.

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Lighting controls companies are well aware of the complexity problem and have released a slew of solutions to help reduce the obstacle.

Cree launched the SmartCast system in February, which allows luminaries enabled with the technology to automatically connect with each other to form a control network that attempts to maximize energy savings based on conditions in the space.  The setup involves the touch of a single button, a feature that Cree has trademarked as OneButton.

Enlighted offers intelligent sensors designed to be connected to individual luminaries, packaged with the local intelligence to control the light based on occupancy, available daylight, and even the type of work being done in the area.  These controllers can communicate back to gateways so that lights can be remotely monitored and managed.  However, by building the sensors and intelligence into each luminary, Enlighted has removed the need for groups of luminaries and sensors to coordinate with each other.

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Daintree Networks addresses the complexity problem through an emphasis on open standards, so that its control system can work with lighting products from multiple manufacturers and customers can more easily mix and match products from various companies.  The company also describes its mesh communication network as self-healing, meaning that any disruption to communications is automatically rerouted.

These companies and many more are trying to address the problem of complexity in lighting controls.  A scan of company websites from Philips Lighting to Acuity Brands to Cooper Industries include words and phrases like “simplify the installation,” “quick-configured,” and “design freedom.”  Simpler systems will help convince building managers that they can achieve the benefits of energy savings and improved monitoring without the risks of complicated reconfigurations or incompatible equipment in the future.  And, in the majority of small- and medium-sized buildings that have no dedicated manager, lighting control systems that configure and run themselves without any intervention must be made available.

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