Evaluating Lighting Controls Options

Determine desired features when combining a LED lighting retrofit with controls technology.

By Jay Black
From the October 2017 Issue

By now, most facility managers are familiar with how much energy savings they can capture by simply replacing fluorescent lamps with LED lighting technologies. It’s no secret that LEDs are significantly more energy efficient and more durable than traditional fluorescent technologies, but it turns out that facility managers have options available to them that can provide additional energy, cost, and time savings related to these systems. A solution that is being increasingly integrated with LED technologies to deliver more efficient and precise energy usage is the incorporation of automation and controls.

LED lighting retrofit
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There are plenty of different smart control systems on the market, each of which offers its own benefits to a facility. These controls can range from complex Internet-based programs that enable remote monitoring and control to simple sensor technologies that turn lights on or off when no one is using a room. When selecting a control for LED lighting solutions, there’s a delicate balance between choosing one that addresses all of a facility’s needs and going overboard with something that is expensive and overwhelming. To find an ideal level of automation that fits seamlessly with facility operations and the budget, it’s important to consider some of the following tips before automating lighting solutions.

Tip #1: Evaluate your facility needs. Every facility is different, and each has its own demands and requirements for lighting. Compare the lighting in a hospital to the lighting in your favorite retail chain or an industrial plant; each has its own requirements and budget limitations.

Looking introspectively at the function and size of the facility is a great place to start when evaluating how complex of a control system is really needed. For example, smaller businesses commonly prefer simpler controls, such as sensors that turn lights on and off, since their facilities don’t always have rigorous lighting demands. For them, the simple purpose of saving energy and money is enough to consider these controls beneficial.

The complexity of controls only expands from there, providing customization and different options for various facilities and spaces. Some facilities—large and small businesses included—may fall into a routine where the space is unoccupied outside of business hours, and simple timers could be used in those cases. Facilities where constant lighting is required may find dimming and daylighting to be effective measures to maintain a single desired light output throughout the day.

The apex of complexity in facility controls can be found in hospitals where all of the aforementioned solutions are used to meet continual high-quality lighting demands and where automation is also used to tailor various lighting components, including color temperature. The variety of controls allows each facility manager to hone in and design a customized solution that meets their exact lighting automation requirements, but facilities must also consider the additional work that comes with advanced complexity in their lighting controls.

Tip #2: Matching facility needs with facility staff capabilities. Once you’ve established that you’re looking for a simple or a complex control system, it’s important to make sure there is available staff to meet the resulting monitoring and maintenance responsibilities. While the thought of complex controls and monitoring technologies might sound like it will provide a “set it and forget it” solution to lighting energy and maintenance needs, it’s just not the case.

Smart control systems (like many smart technologies) are only as good as the amount of effort you put into them. If you increase the complexity of your controls, the time and staff focus required to engage and leverage the smart capabilities will also increase. This includes the immediate maintenance demands provided by real-time updates of lighting fixtures throughout the facility as well as careful monitoring of the control software, including reviewing reports, evaluating how the system is working, and recalibrating the system, if necessary. Smart controls can be a great addition to a facility but it’s important for facility managers to not bite off more than they can chew.

Tip #3: Consider how advanced automation could benefit lighting and maintenance. While control software can require additional time and maintenance, the interconnectivity and real-time feedback it provides can also be a valuable tool for facility managers who want more efficiency with their lighting solutions. Internet-based smart control systems help to provide real-time insight into facility operations, including evaluation of the wattage of each fixture, identification of maintenance functions needed, and control of lighting output throughout all areas of the facility.

The real-time feedback helps to optimize the staff’s time by allowing them to react more quickly to lighting issues and helps managers to make better informed decisions throughout the facility. Again, this is a great option for facilities with the resources available to provide the monitoring and response needed, as staff will need to ensure the lights and software are functioning properly.

Tip #4: Identify energy saving goals. On average, approximately 11% of a facility’s electrical usage is dedicated to lighting according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration. This number has dropped drastically due to the introduction of more energy efficient lighting technologies, and these continue to improve. Lighting can make a significant impact on electrical costs; according to energy company National Grid, every 1,000 kWh saved equals $100 off an energy bill. Combining efficient LED lighting fixtures that already save up to 65% on their own, for instance, with controls that provide an additional 10% to 20% energy savings and added maintenance benefits can help facilities maximize savings even further.

By evaluating a facility’s needs, resources, and demands, it’s possible to find an automated solution that works best for both the facility manager and maintenance staff. And, with the proper controls, facility managers can make more effective decisions that in turn provide top dollar savings.

LED lighting retrofitBlack is vice president of development & communications for Revolution Lighting Technologies. He leverages his experience as director of sustainability at SL Green Realty Corp., where he established and developed the New York City-based real estate company’s environmental and energy efficiency programs.

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