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Advanced lighting controls: What you need to know, and why you should care

By Posted on March 20, 2018

Eric McDonald, CEM; LEED AP O+M
Director, Facilities & Infrastructure Development


At the risk of dating oneself, do you recall around the turn of the century first experiencing the application of occupancy sensors for lighting in commercial buildings? One entered a room and the lights seemed to magically illuminate.  Or sitting fairly motionless in a room for over fifteen to thirty minutes, and the lights turned off.

Occupancy sensors have been around for decades but adoption increased after the US EPA implemented its Green Lights Program in 1995. Installation of over 110,000 occupancy sensors by participants through 16 months of Green Lights (Lighting Research Center, RPI, in Specifier Reports, vol. 5, no. 1, May 1997), spurred interest among commercial and industrial property owners. Further, as states and municipalities referenced ASHRAE/IES 90.1-1999 (American Society of Heating Refrigeration and Air Conditioning Engineers/ Illuminating Engineering Society-Energy Standards for Buildings Except for Low Rise Residential 1999), in their building or energy codes, commercial buildings over 5,000 square feet were required to have lighting which shut off automatically. Automatic shut off was most often accomplished with the use of occupancy sensors.

Evolution of the technology
Deployment of occupancy sensors up through the early 2000’s was chiefly with basic lighting controls such as relays (on or off) and time schedules. With the increase in the use of LED lighting, lighting controls are becoming more sophisticated. LEDs are digital and thus lend themselves to more solid-state control strategies than simple relays and timers. LEDs are ideal for dimming thus allowing for finer gradation of illumination levels.  With the use of advanced lighting controls, lighting can be fine-tuned to better meet user demand, and as significantly, can lead to energy savings of 30% or more (Francis Rubenstein, Lawrence Berkley National Laboratory, Wireless Advanced Lighting Controls Retrofit Demonstration, April 2015 for GSA Proving Grounds).

What makes advanced lighting controls (ALC) advanced?

  • fixture integrated sensors: allows for lighting to be controlled at each fixture vs. for a whole lighting circuit
  • room based controls: often making it possible for out of the box plug and play lighting set-up; addressable or programmable zones — each fixture can be programmed to independently dim and illuminate
  • networked systems: lighting can be networked to meet various lighting scenes and schemes
  • wireless technology: makes installation and future reconfigurations much easier — and places ALC in the realm of the internet of things, creating a smarter, more connected building

ALC strategies explained

  • time scheduling is simply turning off lighting at a time in which the space is not in use
  • high end trim or task tuning is where the light level is adjusted to the applicable task in the space at the time of commissioning the lighting
  • daylight harvesting is where lighting levels are adjusted in response to natural light levels
  • occupancy sensing is when lighting turns on and off based on movement detected in a space
  • personal control is where individuals have control of select lights affecting their personal space
  • demand response is done in conjunction with the utility where lighting can be adjusted or turned off in response to overall local grid demand

The human aspect of ALC
ALC can provide lighting more attuned to persons in the space, better meeting the task at hand with dimming and/or elimination of unused lighting, leading to a reduction in energy use.  

Human centric lighting is sparking interest and new strategies in advanced lighting. Human centric lighting accounts for the effect lighting has on human behavior. This includes mood, temperament, human energy level and human circadian rhythm. With increased gradation in dimmability, increased lighting color temperature, and illumination level, lighting engineers are finding it possible to dip in the water of behavioral and industrial psychology. Might this lead to offices and factories adjusting lighting throughout the day, with warm lighting to slowly acclimate workers in the morning, then as the day goes on, adjusting lighting colors more toward blue to perk up the circadian soul towards the day’s end?

The current state of adoption
Despite the benefits of ALC, its adoption has proven to be lagging. The US Energy Information Administration (U.S. Energy Information Administration, 2012 Commercial Buildings Energy Consumption Survey, EIA, 2012) finds adoption of daylight harvesting to be at 2%, and Lawrence Berkley National Labs (Rubenstein, 2015) finds adoption of ALC at a mere 2% of lighting controls.

Introducing LiTES
In an effort to break down market barriers related to the technology’s adoption, NextEnergy in partnership with DTE, Consumers and MALCTP launched the Lighting Technology Energy Solutions (LiTES) program. With support from the Department of Energy, LiTES aims to spark interest in advanced lighting controls by offering technology training and incentives to offset the costs of installing advanced lighting controls in small and medium commercial buildings.

Is your facility considering a lighting upgrade? If so, now is the time to take advantage of new training opportunities and exclusive incentives through LiTES. In addition to these opportunities, NextEnergy will be hosting a LiTES Advanced Lighting Controls Summit on May 15, where building owners and managers, contractors, and others working in the lighting industry will get the information and resources needed to install the technology. Learn more.


Join the discussion One Comment

  • Greg Jones says:

    Hi Eric,

    Thanks for the industry overview. As a commercial lighting contractor I couldn’t agree more with your comments on ACL adoption lagging. I’ve found the hold back tends to be ROI rationale based.

    But with LED’s being such a commodity nowadays I’m always looking for something coming down the track with high prospects for success. If you ever run across a winning technology/opportunity, I’d love to hear from you. I’m up in the Toronto area.

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