intelligent buildingslighting controls

Smart, Connected Lighting – A Technology Whose Time Has Come

Networked lighting control systems are shown to provide energy savings on the order of 70 percent for certain building types and of 49 percent, on average, across building types—further strengthening the case for greater adoption of this underutilized technology.

“Win-win” is a term frequently used but seldom accurate. Rarely in business do we encounter something that is truly a winner from all angles. In the world of commercial and industrial lighting, however, connected lighting with advanced controls comes close.

Networked lighting controls (NLC) are systems that link up lighting fixtures, sensors and switches – either wirelessly or through control wiring. Installed with LED lighting throughout the ceilings of commercial buildings and industrial facilities, NLCs can collect data useful for various functions, communicating with other building systems and (through a dashboard or phone app) directly with facility managers to improve building environments in ways ranging from energy efficiency and employee comfort to space and resource utilization and emergency response.

Besides providing a path to greater building intelligence, NLCs are a means for facility owners and managers to reap significant energy savings. The DesignLights Consortium (DLC) and Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA) published the most comprehensive study to-date on this topic last September, finding that adding NLCs to LED lighting projects yields energy savings of nearly 70 percent for some building types, and averaging 49 percent across various categories.

An objective resource that is informing the energy efficiency (EE) programs electric utilities offer C & I customers, “Energy Savings from Networked Lighting Control Systems with and without LLLC” strengthened the case for expanding adoption of this underutilized technology to drive energy savings while supporting the growing trend toward smart buildings.

This study comes at an opportune time, as markets for both smart buildings and connected lighting are poised to expand. North America, which led the global building intelligence market in 2019, “is projected to augment the market in coming years,” according to a September 2020 Precedence Research report, owing to several factors, including US and Canadian governments investing significantly in solutions that make buildings safer, smarter, and more sustainable and energy efficient.

Meanwhile, although it now comprises less than one percent of all luminaires in the U.S., the Department of Energy (DOE) estimates nearly a third of US commercial lighting will have network connectivity by 2035. As the DOE stated in its 2019 Solid-State Lighting Energy Savings Forecast, “While still emerging, connected lighting provides a large opportunity for energy savings in the US,” adding that, if the agency’s program goals are met, avoided energy consumption through connected LED lighting would save over $10 billion in energy costs in 2035.

The DLC-NEEA study examined NLC savings potential in eight building types: assembly (i.e., auditoriums, theatres, etc.) education, healthcare, manufacturing, office, restaurant, retail and warehouse. Researchers gathered, aggregated and analyzed building-, zone-, and fixture-level energy monitoring interval data from NLC systems with and without luminaire level lighting control (LLLC) capabilities for an average of 13 weeks per building. While overall average savings from all NLC systems was 49 percent, results were highly site-specific, ranging from 28 percent for assembly buildings to 64 and 68 percent, respectively, for office buildings and warehouses. Energy savings also varied depending on the degree to which sites implemented aggressive energy efficiency strategies such as high-end trim—a strategy (also known as “tuning” or “task-tuning”) through which a luminaire’s maximum light output is set to a less-than-maximum state at the time of installation or commissioning.

Findings released last fall expand upon and confirm results of a 2017 study by the DLC and NEEA, which concluded that NLCs can increase energy savings by an average of about 50 percent above what is possible with LEDs alone. Both studies bolster the case for installing NLCs simultaneous with LED lighting upgrades. Due to the long shelf life of LEDs, failing to do so risks stranding significant additional energy savings, as well as the smart building and non-energy functionality opportunities that NLCs enable.

In terms of the latter, NLCs are a gateway to operations such as remote diagnostics, energy monitoring, external integration with BMS and EMS systems, retro commissioning, load shedding and demand response—all of which generate incremental value for building managers.

With so much going for them, why then do NLCs still comprise such a tiny segment of the C & I lighting market? In research by California-based Energy Solutions, four main categories of non-energy benefits derived from NLCs emerged across eight different sectors: reductions in facility operating costs, increases in productivity and security, and improvements in external appeal. This study also found, however, that only 16 of 106 NLC manufacturers surveyed were marketing the non-energy benefits of their products. Authors called for “more quantification to bolster the value proposition of NLCs.”

In addition to missed marketing opportunities, the DLC has heard from stakeholders ranging from manufacturers to end-users that NLC adoption rates suffer from poor understanding of the technology, inadequate training, and concerns about the interoperability and cybersecurity of NLC systems. As part of an overarching strategy to expand uptake of NLC technology by improving its value proposition, the DLC is addressing these issues in its continuously-evolving technical requirements for NLC systems included on our NLC Qualified Products List. The latest version of this policy took effect last June and will be updated again next year.

Increasing the incentives EE programs offer C & I customers for installing NLC systems is a key route to expanding deployment. To that end, our September 2020 study provides EE program administrators with objective data on potential energy savings. The report’s recommendations include proposing that EE programs use 49 percent as the best estimate of average portfolio-level energy savings for NLC incentive programs, and standardize the NLC energy data reporting format and requirements to facilitate program participation and streamline the process.

By digging deeper into the known savings potential of connected lighting systems, this new research by the DLC and NEEA enables architects, contractors, building managers and others to better estimate possible savings. This, we are confident, will drive wider adoption of NLC technology as a strategy to drive down energy use and stimulate the smart building market.

(Christina Halfpenny is Executive Director and CEO of the DesignLights Consortium. DLC is a CABA member.)