Below is my column published in the October issue of tED Magazine on the topic of the DesignLights Consortium’s networked lighting controls program. What’s new this year: an updated specification and new rebates centered on this technology. Reprinted with permission.

A networked lighting control system consists of an intelligent network of individually addressable luminaires and control devices. Potential advantages include cost-effective application of multiple control strategies, programmability, building- or enterprise-level control from a single point, zoning and rezoning using software, and measuring and monitoring.

First developed for fluorescent lighting, these systems were inhibited by interoperability, lack of familiarity, complexity, and cost issues. As a result, the Department of Energy (DOE) estimated current market adoption in the installed lighting base at <1 percent, focused mostly in larger commercial buildings.

The controllability of the LED source, coupled with falling costs related to integrating sensing, micro-processing, and networking, resulted in renewed interest in networked lighting control. Today, it is a major product trend among lighting manufacturers, with a wide range of solutions on display at LIGHFAIR 2017 in Philadelphia. These systems may be wired or wireless; interior or exterior; focus control on the luminaire, room or building or enterprise; and stand alone or integrate with other building systems. These systems have developed to reduce complexity, commissioning, and installed cost, positioning them as suitable even for small projects.

DOE regards connected lighting as a major energy savings opportunity that will eventually replace traditional single- and multiple-strategy controls as well as energy management systems. In its 2016 Energy Savings Forecast of Solid-State Lighting in General Illumination Applications report, DOE forecasted market penetration in the installed lighting base to reach 15 percent in 2020, 31 percent in 2025, and 59 percent in 2035, with the commercial building sector leading adoption. This translates to connected controls accounting for one-third of all LED energy savings by 2035.

However, DOE recognized issues inhibiting adoption of connected lighting, such as interoperability. If industry does not address these inhibitors, DOE significantly downgrades its adoption forecast. In 2015, DOE announced the Connected Lighting Systems Initiative, through which it is working with industry on energy reporting, interoperability, system configuration complexity, and new features. More recently, DOE also launched the Connected Lighting Test Bed, which provides a platform offering testing and data to industry to facilitate development.

The energy savings potential of networked lighting controls has also attracted interest from utilities, prompting the DesignLights Consortium (DLC) to develop a market transformation program that may prove a game changer in the industry.

Qualified Products List

Billions of dollars each year are allocated to lighting rebates, making them influential in the lighting market, particularly in existing construction. With some 100 utilities as members, the DLC maintains the Qualified Products List (QPL), a list of LED products that satisfy strict performance criteria. Utilities use the QPL to qualify products for rebates.

In May 2016, the DLC released a specification for networked lighting controls that formed the basis for a dedicated QPL. In turn, this positioned networked lighting controls for rebate programs. Utilities already promote lighting controls but are looking for ways to save energy beyond energy codes, resulting in interest in high-performing LED products and networked controls.

Recognizing standardization among products is lacking, the DLC developed a flexible specification. Systems are listed with “required” and “reported” capabilities. Required interior networked control system capabilities include luminaire and device addressability and networking; continuous dimming; zoning; and occupancy sensing, daylight harvesting and high-end trim control. Further, the solution must be commercially available and supported by a minimum five-year warranty.

Reported capabilities provide additional information. These include control persistence; building automation system integration; energy and/or device monitoring (and remote diagnostics); user interface type; operating and standby power; and scheduling, load shedding, personal, and plug-load control.

In June 2017, the DLC released version 2.0 of the specification, which built upon V1.0 to add requirements for exterior lighting control systems and adding new information such as application program interface (API), color tuning, start-up and configuration, and security information. The most significant change is in differentiating interior and exterior systems with separate required and reported features. For example, the DLC requires interior systems to have occupancy sensing but requires exterior systems to have either occupancy- or traffic-sensing capability.

Required and reported networked lighting control system capabilities for interior systems (top) and exterior systems (bottom).

The result is a list of products utilities can use for rebate programs and distributors can use as a tool to compare highly individualized solutions from manufacturers in a standardized format. As of August 2017, the QPL listed 19 products from 15 manufacturers; these products were in the process of being re-qualified based on the new specification.

“For building designers, specifiers, distributors, contractors, and end-users, the new QPL provides a valuable tool to identify and compare potential control systems for their projects based on their capabilities and characteristics,” said Gabe Arnold, PE, LC, Technical Director, DLC. “All of the listed systems have been carefully reviewed to meet minimum performance standards, will provide significant energy savings, and are pre-qualified for utility rebates.”


Arnold said more than 20 energy efficiency programs now require networked control systems be on the QPL. His main goal, however, is for new rebate programs to be created promoting the technology.

As of August 2017, about a dozen rebates had been created by utilities and programs such as Baltimore Gas & Electric (BGE), EVERSOURCE, Mass Save, National Grid, Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), and Wisconsin Focus on Energy. Though a DLC goal is program standardization, there is currently no consistent approach among utilities as they experiment with models.

“We are excited about the momentum we are hearing about from the utilities and energy efficiency programs,” Arnold said. “Most of them are actively looking at how to incorporate the technology and QPL resource. They see this technology as essential to achieving their current and future energy efficiency goals. That said, it will take time for some utilities to develop these new rebates because this technology is not as simple as incorporating an LED light fixture measure into a program.”

Baltimore Gas & Electric, for example, takes a simple prescriptive approach. It awards $50-80 for a DLC-qualified LED troffer. Customers can earn another $40 per luminaire if they incorporate DLC-qualified luminaire controls.

PG&E’s LED Accelerator Program bases its networked lighting control rebates on energy saved. It awards $0.17 per kWh and $150 per kW if DLC Premium luminaires are installed. The rebate increases to $0.24 per kWh and $150 per kW if DLC-qualified networked lighting controls are also installed.

Wisconsin Focus on Energy, meanwhile, rolled out a rebate based on an entirely new approach. Customers can receive either a $0.125 or $0.25 per square foot rebate if a DLC-qualified networked control system is installed, depending on the application. An additional $0.05 per square foot can be earned if the system features energy monitoring capability and the customer agrees to share energy data with the utility or energy efficiency program.

“We see the utilities serving a critical role in accelerating the adoption of the technology, both near and long term,” Arnold said. “As they did with the introduction of LED, many utilities will offer higher-than-normal rebates at the early stages to jumpstart the technology adoption. This will in turn help drive greater volume, and with this greater volume will come lower costs, more utilities and rebates, and ultimately widespread adoption. In a few short years, we even expect some utilities to begin requiring networked lighting controls to be installed in order to access any lighting rebates.”

Other tools

Arnold pointed out that the DLC has launched two additional support programs to facilitate adoption of networked lighting controls.

The DLC is currently developing an energy savings database using energy savings data collected from more than 120 commercial buildings. The first report will be published in September 2017.

“The report will provide estimates of energy savings by building type, and, as the dataset allows, by more granular characteristics such as space type, geographic region, control strategy, etc.,” said Arnold. “It will be essential for rebate programs to able to plan, justify, and build new programs and rebates for networked lighting controls. For industry, this dataset and report will provide a credible third-party resource that can be used to estimate the savings from advanced control systems.”

Finally, the DLC developed channel training about networked lighting controls specifically aimed at electrical distributors and contractors.

“This is an important group to reach since they are the trusted experts for a huge numbers of buildings,” Arnold said. “When customers ask, ‘What should I install?’, their recommendations decide what does and doesn’t get installed. In addition, many of them are unfamiliar, even wary, of some of these new networked lighting control technologies.”

A goal of the training, in fact, is to convey that newer networked control systems have solved old problems such as complexity, confusion, and high cost of installation and commissioning.

The training will become available through several utilities in the spring of 2018 as a pilot program before becoming widely available both as face-to-face sessions and as an online program by end of spring.

Networked controls

With rebates, third-party energy savings estimates, and training, demand for networked lighting controls in existing commercial buildings is expected to increase. The DLC’s goal is for these control systems to go from controlling a small minority of installed lighting to widespread adoption.

For more information and to view the QPL, visit If you have networked lighting control energy savings data you would like to share with the DLC, contact them at