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Guest Post: Lighting the Way to Smarter Buildings

Guest post by Christina Halfpenny, Executive Director, the DesignLights Consortium.

There’s a buzz these days around the connection between smart lighting and smart buildings. As one panelist at last spring’s DesignLights Consortium’s (DLC)  2019 Annual Stakeholder Meeting in St. Louis  put it: “lighting isn’t just lighting anymore.”  With the number of smart buildings projected to grow by about a third by 2024, the lighting industry is rapidly innovating to play an important role in this trend.

According to the Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA), Internet of Things (IoT) device shipments in North America are increasing by about 11 percent annually, with lighting controls comprising one of the largest segments of that growth.  In June, the DLC revised its technical requirements for networked lighting controls (NLC) – a technology advancing so fast that we’ve committed to annual updates of the specifications relied upon by utility company energy efficiency programs across North America. The same month, the DLC and CABA underscored the link between networked lighting and smart buildings with announcement of a formal agreement to collaborate on projects and programs to advance building intelligence.

We’ve known for a while the promise inherent in NLC technology. A 2018 DLC study showed that adding NLCs to LED lighting projects can boost energy savings by nearly 50 percent. As impressive as that statistic is, however, energy savings are only part of the NLC equation – and a probably a less important one for today’s companies. The “3-30-300 rule” holds that businesses now spend just $3 per square foot on energy, versus $30 on real estate costs and $300 on employee salaries and benefits. With that in mind, it’s easy to understand why companies may be less interested in a technology’s energy savings potential than in its capacity to make employees happier and more productive. Giving office, medical, and academic buildings a “brain” can yield those results – and networked lighting provides a gateway to that building intelligence.

Installed throughout a building and equipped with sensors designed to collect a variety of data, NLCs are well-positioned to provide the infrastructure that helps buildings respond to the real-time needs of occupants and facility managers alike.  During a “Lighting and Smart Building” panel at our spring conference, we heard repeatedly that it’s impossible to overstate the importance of the non-illumination, data side of lighting.

According to Energy Star, “studies have found that superior energy performance contributes to increased employee productivity and health.” With the ability to integrate with other building systems, NLCs are a pathway to more intelligent use of building space, increased personal control and comfort, and better building diagnostics. Through NLCs, for example, building managers can receive daily diagnostic reports about lights that are out or in need of attention, and can easily reconfigure lighting controls in response to changes in the space or to address complaints.

Through NLC technology, LED lights can also share data with other building systems, enabling functions ranging from parking elevators on the most occupied floors and facilitating navigation to available meeting rooms, to telling first responders where people are during emergencies.

As is the case with many new technologies, lack of awareness and understanding is preventing faster and more widespread adoption of smart building-enabling – and energy saving – NLC technology. To tap the vast and largely unrealized potential of NLCs, the DLC continues to address, through its yearly-updated technical specifications, issues critical to wider market acceptance and adoption.

Our recent V4.0 Networked Lighting Controls specification,  for example, strengthens the value of NLCs by sharpening the focus on cybersecurity and energy monitoring – important issues for market acceptance.  Meanwhile, the DLC’s new alliance with CABA combines the diverse interests and expertise of both organizations in pursuit of a common goal. We’re optimistic this partnership will speed the development and adoption of smart building technology that fosters better utilization of building space, occupant comfort and energy savings.  As for the role lighting will play in this transformation, we’re confident the future is bright.

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Craig DiLouie

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