I recently had the opportunity to interview Rahul Shira, Senior Product Marketing Manager, Signify, on the topic of luminaire-level lighting controls (LLLC). This interview was conducted to inform an article that will be published in the May 2022 issue of tED Magazine, the official publication of the NAED. Transcript follows.
DiLouie: How would you define luminaire-level lighting controls (LLLC)?
Shira: Signify’s definition of luminaire-level lighting controls (LLLC) is derived from the intent of the original definition drafted by the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA) and endorsed by the DLC. At Signify, we define LLLC as a connected system, where the majority of the luminaires in a deployment are regulated by built-in intelligence. This could be a luminaire-integrated sensor with spatial or environmental sensing capabilities, or it could be a luminaire or lamp with built-in connectivity mechanisms, such as a wireless transmitter and receiver, but no sensing capabilities. The connectivity mechanisms enable users to realize a bidirectional communication link with the lights to support their business needs, such as energy consumption analysis, device diagnostics, or central or manual light level overrides.
DiLouie: How would you characterize demand for LLLC compared to discrete (general lighting + added-on control system), and would you consider this category a trend?
Shira: Overall, demand for lighting controls has increased. In some geographies, LLLC-based systems is even of greater interest than discreet control systems. This trend can be attributed to three factors: 1) wireless connectivity and technology advancements, making it the first-choice option for most retrofit projects. 2) Higher rebates offered by utilities for LLLCs due to the energy savings they offer. 3) Ongoing updates to regulations through various building codes and targeted to minimize energy waste.
DiLouie: What are the benefits of LLLC for electrical distributors, contractors, and owners?
1. Electrical Distributors: LLLCs provide an integrated option between the luminaire and controls, thus reducing the overall Stock Keeping Units (SKU) a distributor may need to onboard and simplifying the management of the flow of goods. In simple terms, by integrating an occupancy and daylight sensor into the luminaire, the SKU counts drop from 3 to 1, a 66.66% drop, and when considered at scale with different luminaire configurations, it translates into significant savings for the distributors. The second soft benefit for distributors is the learning curve their internal staff may need for discrete controls in contrast to an LLLC offering, which can easily fit into their existing processes.
2. Contractors and ESCOs (Installers): The time and money required to cut holes in the ceiling for mounting discrete sensors; the planning required to install discrete controls panels in the electrical room or a distributed controller in the plenum; and the additional materials costs associated with copper, piping and accessories to connect the dimming wires to luminaires can quickly add up and can offshoot the allocated budgets. LLLCs eliminate this nondifferentiated work for the installers and keeps the primary effort limited to luminaire installation. Signify’s Interact Pro scalable system is a wireless LLLC system that can save up to 80% on installation costs when compared with conventional discrete controls. Moreover, because Interact Pro is a cloud-based connected system, installers can proactively offer maintenance services to their clients, giving them an additional revenue stream to grow their business. Finally, LLLCs tend to be more intuitive to configure and commission, making it easier for installers to execute tasks and customize settings as a response to a last-minute change request from the end user, thus helping them build their brand value and trust.
3. Owners – According to research published by the DLC, where they analyzed 194 installs, the energy savings from LLLCs were, on average, 28% higher than that from non-LLLCs. Solutions like the Interact Pro scalable system can push the energy savings bar further with its unique adaptive dimming and dwell time features, which provide the right light levels at the right moment and the right location.
LLLCs with wireless communication technology also offer the flexibility for owners to re-configure lighting control areas, without any disruptions to existing electrical wiring schemes, to easily align with their desk layouts, which, as we know, is changing frequently these days to adhere to physical distancing measures, for example.
With connected LLLCs, owners can gain granular insights on energy use, occupancy patterns, environmental monitoring and space usage, to optimize their operational expenses further.
DiLouie: What are the advantages of LLLC that are driving adoption? What are ideal applications for LLLC?
Shira: Adoption has been growing due to the:
• Documented energy savings benefits by industry partners such as DLC
• Popularity of wireless controls for retrofit markets because of an aggressive ROI model, lower installation costs and flexibility of re-configuration throughout the life cycle of the installation.
• Need to comply with latest regulations and building codes
• Planning for the future – LLLCs like Interact Pro can be deployed in a standalone manner, i.e. without installing any gateways or backend infrastructure, but then can be scaled up to a connected offering by adding back-end building blocks like a gateway or cloud access, whenever deemed fit. This is like a Lego model, where customers can keep accessing new features and benefits by building on top of the foundation that was laid on day 1.
These unique characteristics of LLLCs makes them ideal for schools, universities, libraries, offices, warehouses, parking garages and healthcare facilities.
DiLouie: Looking specifically at retrofit projects, how do the simplicity and economics of installation for an onboard control solution impact the project economics and likelihood of controls being added to the project?
Shira: In retrofit projects, LLLCs unlock the path to claim higher rebates. In most geographies, these rebates range from $15 to $65 per sensor integrated into an LED luminaire and are in addition to the rebates offered for installing LED lights. When coupled with the installation savings and deep energy savings (+28% over DLC average for non-LLLCs) offered by LLLCs, an ROI of less than 2 years or even 1 year becomes very achievable.
LEDs have a longer life span, but controls capabilities are expected to evolve at a faster rate with new innovations. Installing LLLCs means that end users’ retrofit strategy is future-oriented and can easily adapt to evolving business needs.
DiLouie: What are the disadvantages of LLLC? In what applications or application conditions would such a solution be less desirable?
Shira: LLLCs add cost over a base luminaire due to the additional value offered by integrated controls with respect to energy savings. But in some applications like heavy duty manufacturing facilities, where life safety and security supersedes energy savings or where lights need to operate on a schedule such as in a retail store, LLLCs may not be a good fit, unless there is a need for collecting spatial data from the lighting infrastructure.
DiLouie: For what luminaire types are LLLC options available? For what luminaire type or types is LLLC most popular or otherwise advantageous?
Shira: LLLCs are popular in common spaces like a classroom, open office or meeting rooms, for example, where energy savings can be maximized with features like adaptive dimming and dwell time, and where there is the need to alter lighting controls zones/areas frequently. These spaces are typically designed with troffers, linear recessed or suspended luminaires and downlights. In retrofit applications, an LLLC with a retrofit kit is popular.
In highbay applications like warehouse settings, LLLCs are often deployed, as occupancy patterns in these applications are uneven and can be brief. End users can use LLLCs to flexibly re-zone the lights as per their warehouse’s modified aisle structure and only ramp up those lights that are directly detecting motion within the aisle while keeping the rest of the lights in the same aisle at a low background level. This type of adaptive behavior delivers significant energy savings without compromising user safety and comfort.
DiLouie: Understanding that there may be many product options, what are basic, common configurations? How do they typically install, configure for sequences of operation, intelligence inside or outside the luminaire, operate independently or group, and how is control operation managed after installation?
Shira: LLLCs, like the Interact Pro scalable system, are specified by selecting the appropriate sensor option code on the luminaire spec sheets and configured on-site by a non-technical or trained installer using an intuitive configuration App. The App guides the installer on critical steps such as creating lighting groups, altering sensor parameters, trimming the maximum light output etc. Installers can also use the App to execute a code-compliant sequence of operations in a secured manner, thus making the overall process straightforward with minimum dependencies.
If the project evolves over time, the installer can update that same install to the next level by adding a gateway and unlocking additional capabilities like energy reporting, asset performance diagnostics, scheduling, remote monitoring, firmware updates, etc. One of the main tenets of Interact Pro is to prioritize localized outcomes; therefore, intelligence is always retained in the local devices; for example, the link between a wall switch and the LLLCs is independent of whether the project involves a wireless gateway for coordinating system data or not. If the gateway goes offline, the intelligent functions like occupancy sensing or dimming are retained.
External devices like gateways act as coordinating hardware to cloud-based applications, so customers always stay up-to-date with the latest innovations.
DiLouie: Do any special design factors need to be learned or addressed? Is there anything different about LLLC that requires special training or changes in traditional design and installation practices?
Shira: LLLCs with wireless technology are designed to be intuitive and self-serviced; therefore, the learning curve for installers is rapid. One consideration installers will need to take on-board is the planning for wireless mesh continuity. Depending upon the space dynamics, they must consider tactics related to wireless node locations and range. One of the benefits of LLLCs is that a sensor is made available on every luminaire, which reduces or even eliminates the planning and cross checks required to identify sensing blind spots on a project.
DiLouie: If you could tell the entire electrical industry just one thing about LLLC, what would it be?
Shira: LLLCs are the future of lighting control systems. They can help end users maximize their sustainability goals, enhance operational efficiencies, lower maintenance costs and drive employee engagement. Systems like Interact Pro can help them stay relevant in line with their evolving business needs.