My contribution to the August 2020 issue of tED Magazine, the official publication of the NAED, covers what’s new in connected lighting. Reprinted with permission.

Three leading lighting brands say demand for connected lighting is solidly increasing in both indoor and outdoor markets, driven by simplified energy code compliance and value-added features such as data and location services. As such, this premium segment of the lighting category offers electrical distributors opportunity—but may require a shift in sales approach from focusing primarily on energy cost savings to include newer capabilities.

Connected lighting consists of a system of luminaires with integrated or remote load controllers that communicate via low-voltage wiring or a wireless frequency. With digital communication, the resulting system has the potential for luminaires to be programmed and controlled using multiple strategies, either individually or in groups. Additionally, there is a potential for two-way digital communication, enabling measuring, monitoring, and data sharing.

“The connected lighting segment continues to outpace the growth in the overall lighting market, which is fueled in part by energy codes and greater functionality beyond lighting and energy savings,” said Gary Meshberg, LC, CLCP, Director of Industry and Market Engagement, OSRAM ENCELIUM. “Energy savings is the tip of the iceberg. When fully optimized, the data obtained from these systems can prove to be the most valuable aspect.”

The majority of connected lighting systems are sold as room-based solutions for new construction. These systems are typically factory-programmed to provide detailed control strategies that satisfy commercial building energy code requirements. The main value proposition is solving the problem of code compliance via a simple solution. Installing controls embedded in the luminaires simplifies the solution even further.

A growing number of systems are being adopted as enterprise-based solutions—PC-based with a dashboard—spanning buildings, campuses, and even cities, which fully exploit connected lighting’s capabilities. These systems offer centralized control, which can lead to better lighting management and energy savings that go beyond code, while also offering valued-added, data-driven services. With wireless controls, these systems are available not only to new construction but also existing buildings, supported by a growing list of rebates.

Looking at this segment, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) estimated the installed base of connected lighting was less than 1 percent across all sectors in 2017, though DOE expected penetration to grow rapidly to 3-21 percent in 2020 and 7-31 percent in 2025. The range in these forecasts is split between the current market trajectory and a trajectory if certain DOE program goals are met addressing adoption hurdles for the technology, notably related to demonstrating and verifying energy savings, interoperability, and user-friendliness. DOE is focused on energy savings however, where connected lighting’s biggest opportunity may lie beyond it.

“Connected lighting brings LED lighting and information technology together to take light beyond illumination,” said Roger Karner, President, Signify US. “It allows us to harness the power of the Internet of Things for data-driven insights into activities and operations, to inform decision making. Business can have better lighting management, diagnostics and maintenance, helping to lower costs, save energy, and increase operational efficiency. Data can also be combined with that of intelligent building, smart city, and other systems to help control overall environments and better understand everything from office space utilization and occupancy to traffic patterns and road surface conditions.”

A connected luminaire. Image courtesy of Acuity Brands Lighting.

The DesignLights Consortium (DLC), which maintains technical specifications by which products qualify for many utility rebate programs, and the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) both recognize the growing importance of connected lighting as a tool to maximize energy savings. DLC research of more than 100 applications identified average lighting energy savings of 47 percent for networked lighting controls, establishing a baseline for determining return on investment. In 2016, the organization launched technical specifications for the category and a resulting Qualified Products List for rebate programs targeting the existing buildings market. According to rebate fulfillment firm BriteSwitch, the number of programs promoting networked lighting controls in 2020 grew to 95, or about 25 percent of all rebate programs; approaches vary, though a majority offer a rebate adder for each luminaire connected to a qualifying networked control system.

Meanwhile, the DOE’s Interior Lighting Campaign, launched in 2015 to encourage facility owners and managers to install energy-efficient LED luminaires and controls, is reinventing itself this year as the Integrated Lighting Campaign to bring greater focus to connected luminaires, networked lighting controls, plug load controls, and integration with other building systems. The Better Buildings Alliance, another DOE program, is planning an IoT-Upgradeable Lighting Challenge, which will challenge industry to produce a luminaire that can be easily upgraded after installation with IoT sensors and devices.

“Energy savings are an important part of the story for connected luminaires, but there is more to consider in the ROI calculation,” said Gilles Abrahamse, Vice President/GM Digital Luminaire Components, Acuity Brands Lighting. “It is important for distributors to think beyond energy savings, as there is value in better utilization of the building from understanding where people are and their use of the space. Through ease of (re)configuring the space, we can turn the building into revenue-enhancing assets.”

“Distributors should take a more holistic approach to selling an overall system solution,” Meshberg said. “First by selling the quality of LED lighting, then the operational flexibility and data gathered from the connected lighting control system and lastly utilizing the data to enrich the building operational efficiency and occupant experience.”

A wireless connected lighting system. Image courtesy of Acuity Brands Lighting.

Information applications for data collected by connected lighting systems can be used for a variety of operational benefits that may be standard and customized. Depending on the manufacturer, standard benefits include energy measuring for saving verification and other purposes, monitoring and diagnostics for maintenance, occupancy data for space optimization, RFID tags and beacons for inventory tracking, and beacons for indoor positioning. Sensor data can be shared with other systems such as HVAC. Application program interfaces (APIs) enable many more applications to improve operational efficiency and expand user services based on leveraging the lighting system and its generated data.

“It is important to understand the pain points of the customer and speak in terms that will resonate with them,” Karner said. “Explain the benefits the connected lighting system will deliver. For example, we have customers that have been able to optimize their real estate investments by understanding office space utilization via our system.”

“The lighting industry is transforming since the adoption of LED, and connected lighting is a major part of this continuous change,” said Abrahamse. “Connected lighting will be the new normal and will help create new value in the lighting industry. There are two things a distributor can do to position themselves for connected lighting. First, invest in controls personnel and training to better understand the value and the offering. Second, partner with the manufacturer to learn and provide feedback on what the customer is seeking, features or benefits.”