The Benefits Of Sustainable Electrical Systems

Intelligent electrical systems offer the potential to significantly reduce energy consumption and cost.

By Shana Longo
From the October 2022 Issue

Commercial spaces must accommodate the needs of many, which means the design and product specification processes of these environments are crucial to their success. Electrical systems such as lighting, HVAC, plug loads, and shading are pivotal aspects of an indoor space that, if left unchecked and isolated, can contribute to wasteful energy usage and soaring costs.

In fact, the United States Department of Energy estimates that commercial buildings use 35% of electricity consumed in the entire nation, with 38% of that coming from heating and cooling needs, 17% coming from lighting, and nearly 27% from miscellaneous electric loads. Thankfully, these statistics are changing due to an increased focus on sustainability efforts—and we must continue to push forward to promote the advantages of more intelligent electrical systems, as they have the potential to significantly reduce energy consumption and cost through data collection that ultimately benefits building owners, tenants, and the environment.

Sustainable Electrical Systems
(Photo: Adobe Stock/goodvibes photo)

No Lighting System Is An Island

Oftentimes, lighting systems seem self-contained and are overlooked because, as a standalone system, they have a smaller impact on energy and budgets. However, lighting offers the biggest value proposition to facility mangers through customization and data collection features that support optimization across a larger electrical network. Through advanced sensing, embedded in lighting controls and fixtures, the lighting system generates endless user value points to better understand system performance. Intelligent lighting systems create the ideal infrastructure needed to achieve comprehensive energy efficiency, utilizing gathered data to inform the usage of other systems such as shading and HVAC, and cut down on overall consumption.

For example, shading systems provide control over the natural lighting and temperature levels of a space. Using key data, automated shading systems can add value through making learned and easy adjustments that cut down on heating and cooling or artificial lighting. This knowledge allows facility managers to be more targeted in consumption, and therefore more efficient, leading to buildings that operate only on what is needed rather than widely producing unnecessary output.

In addition, HVAC systems don’t inherently offer much data for optimization on their own, but this can be supplemented with outside systems such as occupancy sensors, which can be found in smart lighting systems, to gain a better understanding of what electrical outputs are needed. For example, if a facility executive in a cold winter climate manages a building that is only 50% occupied during certain times of the day or night, they can significantly reduce HVAC costs based on that data. Thinking about the intersections of these systems can ensure buildings are running at maximum efficiency, and contributing to less energy waste.

Putting Your Best System Forward

When it comes to saving on cost and energy, data is key. The most important initial step is to have a networked lighting control system in place that generates information you can harness to make actionable changes. A 2020 Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance study revealed that connected lighting currently comprises less than 1% of all luminaires in the United States, so there is massive opportunity for growth. If you have an existing lighting system, you must first determine the level of intelligence and investigate what data points can be gleaned.

Sustainable Electrical Systems
The next generation of products will be focused on leveraging automation and artificial intelligence to learn about a building’s total energy usage. (Photo: Adobe Stock/montri)

The most important points to gather are centered on occupancy and consumption, as these will help you ascertain where people gather and, consequently, where they utilize energy most. By identifying zones of high traffic within a building, you can significantly cut down on energy consumption in areas people don’t spend much time in—which could result in saving roughly half of lighting energy used in a building.

Once you have an intelligent lighting system in place, you can begin interpreting the data to see what the environmental and occupant needs are, and if these patterns match the intentions of the space. This data can then be utilized to adjust lighting systems, shading, and HVAC to ensure efficiency, eliminating the need to fill peripheral spaces that don’t get as much traffic and therefore do not need an equivalent output.

An Automated Future

So, what’s next? Now that we have the tools to capture this data, we must design for a more sustainable future, treating the building as a grid asset versus a grid customer. The next generation of products will focus on leveraging automation and artificial intelligence to proactively learn about overall energy use, outside conditions, power needs, and utility demands, and to make necessary adjustments to improve the grid. These intelligent systems will optimize for the most efficient scheduling and performance with all inputs considered.

Thinking holistically about energy consumption is a key factor in creating more sustainable and efficient electrical networks, which is why it’s important to remember the greater benefits of integrated lighting systems. Though they account for a smaller percentage of energy savings, when compared to heating and cooling, they are ultimately the gateway for greater energy savings control across all electrical systems due to the actionable data they provide and the wide reach of their benefits.

Installing intelligent, connected, data-rich networks that can identify patterns and adjust accordingly are ultimately our greatest asset when it comes to saving time, energy, and the planet.

References

Shana LongoLongo is the XaaS Technology Senior Manager for Legrand’s Building Control System Division charged with developing and delivering a data-driven services product offering to the market. For the past five years, she has led Legrand’s High Performance Building Committee, managing a corporate-wide initiative to understand how the electrical industry plays a role in sustainable and well-being building design.

Do you have a comment? Share your thoughts in the Comments section below, or send an e-mail to the Editor at jen@groupc.com.

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