Lighting controls today for tomorrow

The energy efficiency, occupant comfort and interior flexibility a building offers today are often designed just for the needs of today. However, it is of critical importance that the building is designed to allow for future expansion in size and capabilities. As time passes, it will have to meet requirements for use and efficiency different than those in place when the building first opened.


The energy efficiency, occupant comfort and interior flexibility a building offers today are often designed just for the needs of today. However, it is of critical importance that the building is designed to allow for future expansion in size and capabilities. As time passes, it will have to meet requirements for use and efficiency different than those in place when the building first opened.

Where energy efficiency, occupant comfort and interior flexibility are concerned, the lighting control system in a building is of paramount importance. Lighting can account for 40% to 50% of a building’s energy consumption. Too much or too little light in a space can cause occupant discomfort, disrupt productivity and make a space unfit for certain tasks. Today, lighting control systems can dramatically reduce energy consumption, improve the workplace environment and easily reconfigure or expand as the purposes of the spaces evolve and change. The lighting control systems of today are ready to adapt to the changing needs of the building, and stand ready to meet tomorrow’s needs of the building.

Plan for energy savings

Lighting control technologies equip buildings to actively reduce energy consumption in a manner that is sustainable throughout the life of the building. Actively managing energy use will allow facility managers to better control their operating costs. Without an adequate method of controlling the lighting provided in a space, the options will be limited to address high energy costs.

Active daylighting is one strategy buildings can use to ensure energy savings now and in the future. For years, daylighting has been identified as a strategy with the potential to create large energy savings, while enhancing the office environment. However, the application of daylighting in buildings was limited to passive technologies that were capable of either shading a space or directing daylight deeper into the floor plan, but not capable of combining electric light output with available daylight.

Light is a dynamic element of the building environment, but its availability fluctuates daily in both time and quantity. As more windows are added to commercial projects, more daylight enters into the space. In order to realize the potential benefits of natural daylight, it must be managed effectively by a combination of both dimming and shading systems.

A variety of window and shading system technologies have been developed to manage daylight levels, including horizontal louvers, vertical blinds, draperies and roller shades.

Designing controlled daylight in a space creates opportunities for healthier, more productive, more satisfied occupants, as well as enhanced building performance potential. Natural light is a tremendous source of light and heat, and can be harnessed and managed effectively with the right lighting control solution.

Going active

Active daylighting technologies recognize the total illumination in a space as both daylight and electric light. This active technology is capable of maintaining a target level of illumination on a work plane by measuring the daylight available, then dimming or raising overhead electric lights to assist Mother Nature. Energy savings from these daylighting technologies can reach 20% to 30%.

Engineers also can equip a building for sustainability now and in the future by specifying a energy-saving standardized lighting control sequences. By setting electronic “priorities,” the standardized sequences of a lighting control system dictate the order that commands from sensors and controls are obeyed.

In the New York Times headquarters in New York City, for example, one lighting control sequence for a conference room or office on the perimeter of the building turns lights off when the rooms are unoccupied. When occupancy is registered (Step 1), the lights turn on to a level that augments available daylight (Step 2). At any time thereafter, the light levels may be controlled by the occupant at a wall-mounted switch (Step 3).

Anticipate churn

Lighting control systems are suited to prepare a building for future floor plan changes and space requirements. Engineers can save their clients from headaches and high costs by specifying a lighting control system that already is prepared for future improvements.

Software-based lighting control systems have individually addressable features. This control allows changes to be made to the size and functionality of the building, or specific spaces within the building, without costly rewiring. These systems are easily expanded, easily modified and able to interface with other building systems to provide greater efficiency in the future. Software-based systems also can be included in the building’s automation system, providing one central command point for all building systems.

Taking the New York Times building again as an example, software-based lighting control systems were included in the specification, which called for addressable ballast loops that used 80% or less of the available addresses during initial construction. This allowed additional fixtures to be added in the future. It also specified that the ballasts throughout the building be controlled individually or as a group, and each ballast should be addressable, so that its interaction with the occupancy sensors, photo sensors and manual wall stations could be defined and redefined throughout the building’s life without rewiring.

Anticipate the future

Specifying engineers can add value to lighting systems by anticipating the future needs of their clients and appropriately integrating the solutions to tomorrow’s problems into their buildings today. Two potential near-future needs are load shedding and energy monitoring.

• Load shedding. Lighting control systems can provide a demand response to reduce electrical loads when emergencies or congestion occur that threaten grid reliability or when market conditions raise supply costs. Lights can be programmed to fade down instead of automatically shutting off when load shedding is required.

• Energy monitoring. The growing focus on energy efficiency is likely to gain momentum in the future and companies may be looking for ways to document and share more efficient building performances. Lighting control systems can be specified to monitor and document energy usage and track energy savings created through lighting control strategies such as occupancy sensing, daylighting and dimming. Further, the same software that is used to document energy savings also can be used to alert building staff to maintenance issues—both proactive and reactive—and help resolve them in a timely manner.

The buildings of the future are still just that, in the future, but by specifying building systems that accommodate new technologies and anticipate future needs, engineers of today will ensure that their buildings still meet their client’s needs tomorrow.

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