By Christina Halfpenny
From the April 2020 Issue
Now easier to install and use and backed by in situ energy savings research, networked lighting controls (NLCs) are gaining traction in commercial facilities of all kinds. Navigant Research recently projected that global annual revenue for NLCs will expand at a compound annual growth rate of 17.6%, reaching $6 billion in 2028, and the U.S. Department of Energy estimates that more than a third of installed luminaires in commercial buildings will have network connectivity by 2035.
Steady expansion of NLCs is happening for a variety of reasons, including their ability to integrate with other facility systems such as building management systems and security to make buildings “smarter,” and significant energy savings potential—nearly 50% more than is possible with LED lighting alone, according to a 2017 DesignLights Consortium study. More than 50 utilities across North America currently offer incentives to encourage the commercial installation of NLCs by offsetting upfront costs.
For facility owners and managers, there’s clearly opportunity to be had. Beyond energy savings, NLCs are a pathway to more intelligent use of building space, increased personal control and comfort, and better building diagnostics. Through NLCs, for example, facility 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.
NLC technology also facilitates the sharing of 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.
Capturing Lighting Potential
The question is how to capture the potential benefits of NLCs, to ensure that investments in the technology are prudent. Research and the experience of early adopters indicates there isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer.
The DesignLights Consortium study of NLCs installed in 114 buildings of various types offers pointers on how to maximize energy and cost savings. The study found average savings from NLCs (compared to savings from LEDs alone) to be 47% (ranging from 82% for warehouses and 63% for office buildings to 23% for “assembly” buildings (i.e., convention centers, theatres, places of worship) and 28% for schools). Importantly, however, the study found that NLC energy savings are influenced more by actual site-specific characteristics than by general building types.
“NLC systems produce the greatest savings at sites with long operating hours, large swings in occupancy throughout the day, and that are less than 100% occupied, resulting in lower overall traffic,” our research concluded.
In addition, this study demonstrated that you reap what you sow: proper startup and configuration of NLCs—taking time to physically walk through a facility and choose appropriate lighting levels and occupancy delay settings for each space, for example—is essential for energy savings. Without proper configuration, NLCs may have minimal impact or, in some cases, could even increase energy use.
Fortunately, several NLC systems are now available with mobile apps that simplify the configuration process.
Lack of interoperability (the ability of lighting systems and/or components to work together to operate as intended, typically facilitated by being able to share a common defined set of information) is another issue that can limit NLC energy savings. “Historically,” states a report by Memoori Research, “a lack of standardization has meant lighting control systems have been largely proprietary and non-interoperable, increasing costs, and making them difficult to install and to reconfigure.”
Recognizing interoperability as a characteristic that can unlock new energy savings and lead to greater adoption of NLCs, the DLC’s latest version of Technical Requirements for Networked Lighting Control Systems includes a multi-year plan to enhance the interoperability of controls approved for the DLC’s searchable online Qualified Products List (QPL). Strengthened energy monitoring features are part of the “NLC5” policy, which is expected to become effective in June 2020 following another round of stakeholder comments this spring.
Also on the horizon later this year are findings from new research by the DLC and Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA) intended to update the 2017 NLC study by looking at more building types, sites and controls companies. This “Networked Lighting Controls Energy Characterization Study” will investigate operational best practices to achieve higher energy savings through NLC projects and will be available for use by NEEA, DLC member utility companies, and efficiency organizations to support the development and expansion of NLC incentive programs.
Configured correctly and used in the right places, NLCs are full of energy savings promise and can optimize the quality of light provided in both indoor and outdoor spaces. Realizing the energy saving potential hinges on factors within the control of facility management professionals, including choosing the right NLC system for your needs and keeping staff trained on how to operate and maintain it (or hiring a contractor to do so).
Through ongoing research and annual updating of our NLC technical requirements, the DLC is continuing to improve the value proposition of networked lighting controls in the commercial and industrial sector. By increasing customer understanding and confidence, we anticipate facilitating broader adoption of this transformative technology.
Halfpenny is executive director and CEO of DesignLights Consortium. In her position, she drives success through strategic planning, stakeholder engagement and collaboration, and continuous improvement of business systems. Halfpenny established the DLC as an independent nonprofit with the mission to drive efficiency through lighting. As Executive Director, she works to identify opportunities for broad scale energy savings and innovation that can be realized with applied planning and implementation tactics. Halfpenny has more than 15 years of experience in energy efficiency and clean energy policy and practice.
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