Networked lighting controls

With the advent of building technology comes the need for monitoring and intercommunication between heating, cooling, electrical, lighting, fire/life safety, and other systems for optimized efficiency and operation.


This article is peer-reviewed.Learning Objectives:

  • Understand the basics of networked lighting controls in commercial buildings.
  • Review codes and standards that address requirements of lighting controls.
  • Discover how lighting controls can lead to better energy efficiency.

Lighting is typically one of the largest energy loads in any building, and historically, it has been the hardest to control. For example, have you ever wondered if people would really notice if you evenly reduced the output of light fixtures in a corridor or open space? Think of the energy savings. Thankfully, technological advancements have led to a solution that is extremely effective at combating these issues: networked lighting controls.

Figure 1: This rendering shows the electric lighting in the space at a very reduced level due to available daylight, showcasing the implementation of daylighting control using networked lighting controls. All graphics courtesy: CannonDesignThe networked lighting control system leverages the power of digitization and granularity to completely control a building’s lighting system from a centralized location. When properly implemented, these systems are user-friendly and easy to maintain—and they streamline physical operation and maintenance. Software-based lighting control also allows sharing of data not only between components of the lighting control system, but also with mechanical, fire safety, and security systems. This integration of smart systems enables effective management of all the building’s energy consumers to realize energy reduction and cost savings.

The term “networked lighting control system” may sound complicated, but what it really means is that you are layering communication interfaces over common hardware components that have been traditionally used—ballasts, lamps, occupancy sensors, and other control devices. The hardware is pretty much the same as it has always been; the real change and advancement is the software systems.

Updates to codes and standards

Energy codes, such as ASHRAE Standard 90.1: Energy Standard for Building Except Low-Rise Residential Buildings, International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), and California Title 24, are becoming more stringent, and networked lighting controls simply make it much easier to comply. With each new version, energy codes are trending toward the ultimate goal of net zero energy consumption. Each of the codes is updated every 3 years, and biggest changes are made to the thresholds for triggering compliance, which are revised in each edition to encompass more projects.

Instead of looking at lighting control from a building level, many engineers still try to address each energy code requirement on a space-by-space basis, installing multiple types of systems (e.g., relay control, architectural dimming systems, wall box dimming) in a single building without any central control. While this approach may satisfy the project’s basic functional and energy code requirements, it makes it difficult for building managers and facility operators to maintain. Having multiple systems to maintain is much more cumbersome than maintaining just one system.

Energy code requirements, rising energy costs, the importance of historical and up-to-the-minute building data-collection and analysis, research on the effectiveness of controls, emerging technologies like easy-to-control LEDs, and demand for green buildings have driven manufacturers to develop systems that engineers can implement to meet these changes. The thinking now is to achieve a seamless installation that provides user comfort, but only consumes what you absolutely need. With the addition of the plug-load control requirement, lighting control systems are quickly moving into the realm of energy management.

System implementation

A review of networked control manufacturers will show that each manufacturer configures its hardware and software interface a little different. The major manufacturers fit into one of three categories:

  • System type—all devices and components must be from the same manufacturer as the control system. The communication between hardware and software is embedded in the devices and components.
  • Non-system type—devices and components can be from any manufacturer. The communication between hardware and software is layered over the top of the devices and components.
  • Non-system type with digital addressable lighting interface (DALI)—devices and components can be from any manufacturer as long as they have the DALI protocol integrated. The communication between hardware and software uses the DALI protocol interface.

But what really sets these systems apart is the software interface. Several manufacturers now use a graphical user interface (GUI) that allows the user to point and click to make programming changes to the system. The allows the system to be easily adapted to changing building and workspace uses. Minor reconfiguration of spaces can be implemented through the control software without having to alter wiring or luminaires.

Software can provide unprecedented energy-management power by enabling centralized management (with remote access); integration and data sharing with other building systems, such as building automation systems (BAS), security systems, or fire alarm systems; and automatically generated maintenance alerts, device- and system-commissioning reports, and device-usage reports. Armed with all of this data and control, building operators are empowered to optimize energy consumption in their facilities.

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