Networking Lighting Components Can Impact Energy Efficiency in a Big Way

As consumers across the world demand more energy at a lower rate, engineers are hard-pressed to develop products that perform better and use less energy. The lighting industry is feeling this pressure acutely as lamp and luminaire technology progresses at a rapid rate. Legislation and standards are continuously developed and, as a result, require appliances to perform exceedingly well in the marketplace. Unfortunately, it is difficult to obtain an incremental increase in performance of lighting technology without an inordinate dispensation of capital. That is, the individual lighting appliances, such as lamps or lamp controllers (lamps, drivers, occupancy sensors, photo sensors), will improve only slightly and at a high price.

This phenomenon requires that we develop another method of increasing energy efficiency. To this end, the lighting industry has begun examining the lighting of commercial buildings as a system of components as opposed to multiple, un-networked appliances.

Lighting controls are one of the best methods to realize these energy savings. Networking lamps and fixtures to occupancy or photo sensors allows dimming based on time of day, occupancy and prior illumination. Pair these controls with an effective daylighting strategy and a building manager can further increase energy savings. With ever-advancing wireless technology, coupling lighting components to a central controller increases control over how buildings are lit.

Quantifying this energy savings is the next step in widespread acceptance and adoption of lighting systems. Case studies are constantly developed to evince energy savings through lighting controls. The best method of quantifying energy savings in a building is to compare the performance of a networked lighting system to the performance of a building without one. So, if a system retrofit uses one-quarter of the energy that its predecessor used, we would say that the system has an energy savings of 75 percent.

Lighting controls impact the efficiency of a lighting system more than any other lighting-related technology. The energy savings obtained by replacing incandescent or fluorescent bulbs with LEDs, while substantial, is not a spot on the energy savings gained through implementing lighting controls. The average energy savings obtained through installing a lighting controls system can range anywhere from 40 to 70 percent. Given a building with all of the best lighting component technology, we can still achieve 70 percent energy savings simply by installing lighting controls. (To learn more, read the following articles: “A Lighting Control System in Buildings based on Fuzzy Logic”, Telkomnika, no. 3; “Intelligent Lighting (Part 1): From Definition to Implementation”, LED Professional Review; and Energy Efficiency of Alternative Lighting Control Systems, working paper, Society of Light and Lighting.)

Unfortunately, the adoption of this systems approach is advancing too slowly in the current market. An industry-accepted definition of a “lighting system” has not been achieved. Because of this, it is impossible to standardize or regulate a lighting system. The National Electrical Manufacturers Association is the secretary for the ANSI C137 Committee on Lighting Systems. This group has been tasked with defining and standardizing the metrics and performance of lighting systems. While many companies already have their own method of networking lighting components into a system, it is important to develop a standard for these systems to encourage competition and market penetration.

Although important to continue developing individual lighting-component technology, this is not the field that will provide the next big advancement in energy efficiency. To achieve increasingly stringent energy benchmarks, the lighting industry must develop a method of increasing energy efficiency that does not involve spending exorbitant amounts of money on better lighting components. To attain these goals, the industry must network all of these components into one system so the components communicate accurately and efficiently with each other.

About the Author

Paul Rodriguez
Paul Rodriguez is program manager for the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, Arlington, Va.

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