I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Gabe Arnold, PE, LC, Program Manager, DesignLights Consortium. The topic: the new DLC Networked Lighting Control Systems Specification. I’m happy to share his responses with you here.

DiLouie: How would you describe the DesignLights Consortium and the Qualified Products List?

Arnold: The DesignLights Consortium (DLC) is a non-profit organization dedicated to accelerating the widespread adoption of high–performing commercial lighting solutions. The DLC promotes high–quality, energy efficient lighting products in collaboration with utilities and energy efficiency program members, manufacturers, lighting designers, and federal, state, and local entities. Through these partnerships, the DLC establishes product quality specifications, facilitates thought leadership, and provides information, education, tools and technical expertise.

The DLC’s qualified products list (QPL) for SSL lighting is an online resource that serves efficiency programs and the lighting industry as the leading public list of high quality, high efficiency LED products for the commercial sector. The DLC’s SSL QPL currently contains almost 175,000 products in 8 categories, and is searchable by a wide variety of criteria, including light output, efficacy, wattage, CRI, CCT, and power factor.

The DLC also recently launched a performance specification and qualified products list for Networked Lighting Controls (NLC) to equip utility energy efficiency programs with resources to understand and evaluate NLC systems and define minimum eligibility criteria for incentives. The performance specification identifies a set of required system capabilities for inclusion on the QPL. The resource also reports on a range of other system characteristics for all included products and identifies systems that will be eligible for financial incentives and rebates from utilities and energy efficiency programs.

DiLouie: How influential is the QPL in utility rebate programs? How many utilities base their prescriptive rebate programs on it? What portion of total funding goes through rebates based on QPL qualification? Any background you might have here would be very informative.

Arnold: Formally, the DLC has 83 Members that represent approximately 100 utilities and energy efficiency programs across the US and Canada. These Members help fund and guide the DLC and use our specifications and QPLs to determine what commercial lighting technology is eligible for rebates. In addition, there are many utilities, energy efficiency programs, and other organizations that are not formal DLC Members but utilize the DLC’s specifications and QPLs.

In 2014, U.S. and Canadian energy efficiency programs were funded at approximately $8.7 billion, of which an estimated $2 billion was used for lighting. This funding and associated rebates are leveraged to drive a multi-billion dollar commercial lighting market. The DLC provides a one-stop efficient process for manufacturers to access and participate in this market.

DiLouie: Why did DLC want to create a category for networked lighting controls? What was the need and opportunity? What is the DLC’s goal?

Arnold: Lighting controls, and especially Networked Lighting Controls, continue to be a greatly underutilized opportunity for DLC Members and the lighting market as a whole. DLC Members report that Networked Lighting Controls are used on less than 1% of the lighting projects seen by their programs every year. This represents tens of thousands of projects each year that are missing lighting control opportunities.

Looking more broadly outside of utility programs, only 2% of commercial buildings in the United States have daylight harvesting controls. (Commercial Buildings Energy Consumptions Survey, US Energy Information Administration, 2014). In the Northwest US, where there have been robust energy efficiency programs and energy codes for two decades, 73% of the lighting within commercial buildings remains manually controlled and less than 1% of commercial lighting is controlled for daylight. (2014 Commercial Building Stock Assessment, NEEA, Navigant, 2014). These are significant missed opportunities not just for utilities, but also for the building owners and occupants that benefit from the controls and the lighting industry as a whole.

Looking to the future, utilities will increasingly target their rebates to Networked Lighting Control technologies in order to meet the energy savings targets placed on them by their regulators. Utilities are facing a challenge in that they are no longer receiving credit from their regulators for savings from basic lighting controls and standard efficiency LEDs that might be required by code or considered baseline standard practice. The utilities must continuously raise the bar to stay ahead of the baselines defined by their regulators. This means focusing their rebates on higher performing LED lighting and Networked Lighting Control systems going forward.

In order for utilities to successfully capture the opportunity provided by Networked Lighting Controls – and to do so at scale – there are a number of resources needed. Utilities need to determine what products or systems will deliver energy savings and qualify for rebates. They need reliable estimates of energy savings for the technology that they can report to their regulators. They need training and education for the designers, specifiers, contractors, and end-users that participate in their programs.

DLC’s goal with this specification and QPL is to equip DLC Members with a key resource to harness the opportunity provided by Networked Lighting Controls and accelerate adoption at scale. In partnership with Members, DLC seeks to change the current paradigm (where less than 1% of projects seen by utility programs incorporate Networked Controls) to a new future where 90% or more of projects incorporate Networked Controls.

DiLouie: What was the process to develop the specification?

Arnold: DLC relies on both formal and informal stakeholder input provided at DLC meetings and events, through DLC member committees, and through a public comment process to develop our specifications. The development of the NLC specification included all of these feedback methods. The efforts began in October 2014 at DLC’s Advanced Lighting Control Summit, where DLC brought together lighting control manufacturers, energy efficiency programs, and other subject matter experts to discuss how to collaborate to increase the adoption of advanced lighting controls. The development of a potential specification was a key part of the agenda for this meeting. From there, DLC held discussions with stakeholders at Lightfair 2015 and the DLC Stakeholder Meeting in July 2015 before releasing a draft conceptual specification in September 2015 for formal public comment. DLC hosted another Advanced Lighting Control Summit in October 2016 to discuss feedback and proposed changes to the draft specification. Another draft of the specification was released for formal public comment in January 2016 before we finalized and published the specification in April of 2016.

DiLouie: In a nutshell, how would you describe the specification?

Arnold: The Networked Lighting Control Specification is a performance specification and qualified products list to equip utility energy efficiency programs and the wider market with a resource to understand and evaluate Advanced Lighting Control systems and define minimum eligibility criteria for incentives.

DiLouie: What challenges did DLC face in striking the right balance between high performance and breadth of products included? Are you satisfied with the resulting balance?

Arnold: Lighting control technology is undergoing a period of rapid change and innovation with minimal industry standards or standardization. From the outset of developing the specification, DLC believed it was premature to define highly restrictive performance specifications and “pick winners” from the current landscape of available approaches and technologies. Doing so could have limited important technology innovation.

In addition, it is important to DLC and our Members that the specification allows for a significant number of qualified systems. There needs to be a breadth of systems from a range of manufacturers for a wide variety of applications and customer types.

With these guiding criteria, DLC sought to develop a minimum specification that would be flexible based on today’s technology and allow most current networked lighting control systems to qualify, from simpler systems to the most complex. The specification needed to support a wide range of applications and the varying ways that DLC members would use it. Not all DLC members have the same needs – some are looking to set a higher bar than others and the specification and QPL needed to provide this functionality.

We are pleased with the balance we have struck. The specification provides an inclusive and flexible framework to build from and allows DLC to raise the bar for the technology in a way that does not inhibit innovation. It enables options and customer choice for a wide range of applications, from simple to the most complex. It is supported by most of the lighting controls industry and flexible to support the varying needs of DLC Members.

DiLouie: What is the rollout? How soon do you expect products to be published in the QPL? How long will it take for rebate programs to support this category and have an impact on the market?

Arnold: As of May 6, 2016, the specification has been final and manufacturers have been able to submit systems to be qualified. DLC has received a number of applications and expects the initial QPL to be published in June of 2016. How quickly DLC Members develop new programs around the specification and QPL will vary. Some have already developed new programs and will launch them in the second half of 2016. Others will launch programs in 2017. As with any new program, it will take some time for the market to evolve to take advantage of it.

[Editor’s note: As of July 1, two systems had been listed–RAB’s LightCloud and Enlighted’s Enlighted system.]

DiLouie: Please describe the larger market transformation program DLC is engaging to promote networked lighting controls in the North America. What are the program elements, what is their purpose, and how soon will they be rolled out?

Arnold: The DLC is developing a suite of tools and resources along with the QPL to address adoption barriers and accelerate adoption of the technology. These include:

Networked Lighting Control Specification and QPL – A performance specification and qualified products list to equip utility energy efficiency programs with a valuable information resource to understand and evaluate advanced lighting control products and define minimum eligibility criteria for incentives.

ALCS Energy Estimator – A tool that will use the best available data and methodologies to estimate energy savings for layered lighting controls and automatically calculate savings compared to existing conditions and several energy codes. This will be available to DLC Members beginning in late 2016. DLC is considering whether and how to make the tool available to the wider market.

Training Programs – Resources and programs offered by DLC member utilities to educate the workforce on new Advanced Lighting Control technologies. These new training programs will begin to be deployed in late 2016 in select DLC Member territories.

Demonstration Projects – In partnership with the US DOE, ten demonstration projects of various Advanced Lighting Control technologies for case studies to be incorporated into training, outreach, and marketing efforts. The first set of case studies will be available in late 2016 with the remainder in 2017.

Unified Incentive Strategy – A unified, market-friendly, and high-volume approach to incenting Advanced Lighting Control technology developed in partnership with member utilities and the lighting industry. Some DLC Members will deploy this new approach in the latter half of 2016, others in 2017.

DiLouie: What will this DLC QPL category mean for electrical contractors and electrical distributors? What’s in it for them? What do they need to know?

Arnold: Firstly, contractors and distributors should know that Networked Controls are not like they used to be. There has been tremendous innovation occurring at the manufacturer level to reduce the cost and complexity of installing and commissioning the systems. Features such as wireless communication that eliminates the need for control wiring, self-commissioning, and sensors embedded within light fixtures are dramatically reducing the time and cost of using the technology. New fixtures are being packaged with the controls pre-installed, thus reducing the customization and skus and allowing for local stocking at distribution. Networked systems are being simplified and packaged such that they’ll work with the smallest projects and least sophisticated customers. The DLC QPL will allow distributors, contractors, and customers to identify these systems. Contractors and distributors should educate themselves on the technology, know what products qualify what rebates are available, consider stocking them, and use the QPL as a competitive advantage and way to enhance value with customers.

DiLouie: If you could tell the entire electrical industry just one thing about the DLC specification for networked lighting controls, what would it be?

Arnold: Be proactive, participate, and leverage this new DLC resource. If you are a manufacturer, get your system qualified. If you are a specifier, ESCO, distributor, or contractor, learn about qualified systems and use them on your next project. Get educated on the technology. Attend a training. Take advantage of the new rebates. LEDs shook up and changed the lighting industry but the potential changes from Networked Lighting Controls have far greater implications to nearly everyone in the industry.

Click here to read the specification and download the latest QPL.