Smart Lighting Offers Facilities A Data Network To Support Health, Energy Savings

New research explores how sensor-based luminaire level lighting controls (LLLC) provide facility managers insight beyond energy management goals.

By Kevin Van den Wymelenberg, Ph.D., Director, Energy Studies in Building Laboratory, University of Oregon
Alen Mahic, Research Associate, Energy Studies in Building Laboratory, University of Oregon
Paul Ward, Research Assistant Professor, Energy Studies in Building Laboratory, University of Oregon

We’ve known for centuries that buildings influence our health, but the way the two intersect has come into stark focus during the COVID-19 pandemic. Over the past year and a half, the risk of transmission has kept many of us from even entering commercial building spaces. Yet, society has been through this type of upheaval before. In the wake of the 1918 pandemic, architects gained a new appreciation for the role buildings play in our personal health, well-being, and happiness and worked to incorporate a sense of the outdoors in their designs. The energy crisis of the 1970s then reversed this trend as the focus on decreasing energy consumption drove many design decisions, such as reducing window sizes and increasing insulation from hot or cold outdoor air.

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Circadian dosing at Miller Hull’s PAE Office Space. (Photo Credit: Nic Lehoux)

As we all tentatively return to commercial buildings and workplaces, the challenge now is to ensure facilities are prepared to safely receive occupants again while also keeping an eye on energy usage, which both drives operating costs and has negative environmental impacts. To tackle both imperatives, we need to rethink how we manage commercial spaces and promote health within them. Lighting controls is an area that has potential for gain.

Touchless technology, modular workspaces, and other emerging solutions help facility managers find ways to innovate and adapt to a “new normal” for commercial spaces. One technology that helps balance both health and energy efficiency is sensor-based Luminaire Level Lighting Controls (LLLC). LLLCs are generally seen as an energy saving solution because they use sensors to tune lighting where and when it is most needed based on occupancy and daylight to reduce overall energy use. In other words, LLLC sensors turn off lights when people are not present or dim lights when there is ample natural light from outside.

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LLLC system installed in Pacific Tower, Seattle, WA

A recently released white paper, “Luminaire Level Lighting Controls and the Future of Healthy Bulidings,” from the University of Oregon Energy Studies in Building Laboratory, in partnership with BetterBricks, showcases how LLLCs have the potential to revolutionize how we monitor and respond to environmental factors that impact both human health and building efficiency. Since lighting systems are ubiquitous throughout a space and LLLCs have sensors in every fixture, they offer a mesh network or data backbone for a building. The white paper explores how we can tap into this network for a wide variety of applications from asset tracking and ventilation to security and safety. These topics are unpacked in-depth in the white paper and an accompanying webinar, but here is an overview…

LLLC’s dense network of embedded sensors offer facility managers much greater intel throughout a building as well as greater flexibility to deal with issues remotely. This is a big advantage given remote working is likely to remain a fact of life and many buildings can expect to see continued reduced occupancy from pre-pandemic levels into the future. Graphic dashboards give facility managers a real-time, visual view of lighting systems, including historical use data and even room-level plan views of activity without having to be physically present at a building. Sensing individual device energy usage and performance metrics also allow predictive maintenance through diagnosis and automatic email notifications of issues to facility managers to identify problems before they occur. Additionally, LLLC occupancy sensing can notify security teams of space intrusions outside of operating hours or while personnel are offsite. Fire & Life Safety Systems can also be integrated with the lighting system so facility managers can enable creative alarm responses. For example, “pulsing” lighting to give a strong visual cue to the egress path away from hot spots identified via LLLC thermal sensing could facilitate life-saving egress response in the future.

Currently, LLLC sensors are also being used to conduct occupant density mapping to understand high traffic areas in buildings. This information is helpful for determining cleaning needs and scheduling and for optimizing how a space is used. For example, LLLC could be used for dynamically finding and reserving in-demand common areas like conference rooms or specialized spaces like hospital surgery rooms. Similarly, LLLCs in combination with wearable bracelets or tags can help track equipment critical to operations, for example, a forklift in a warehouse or a wheelchair or mobile medical tray within a hospital. In the second scenario, reducing the time to track down this vital equipment could literally be lifesaving.

Heatmap visualizing peak usages areas in a retail setting


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LLLC can be used for tracking medical carts in hospitals and senior living facilities or tracking machinery in industrial and warehouse settings.

Another LLLC application that likely holds the greatest potential to improve health is through building system integration. For example, improved awareness of real-time occupant location and density can improve ventilation, thermal comfort, visual comfort, and even guide improved circadian dosing from daylight to promote occupant health. LLLC can also help tackle the interoperability and communication challenges that often surround HVAC and lighting systems integration. The distributed occupancy data available via LLLCs can be more precise and more predictive than current CO2 sensors for providing sufficient ventilation when and where it is needed.

For more information, the 14-page white paper, “Luminaire Level Lighting Controls and the Future of Healthy Lighting,” is available for download and lays out the vision for how LLLCs and building automation systems can be integrated to support health and reduce energy consumption. As we enter a post-pandemic future, learning how to leverage new technologies and their vast capabilities will be the key to creating safer, healthier, and more efficient buildings. (Read more about luminaire level lighting controls (LLLC) in this article from the April 2021 issue of Facility Executive.)

Dr. Van Den Wymelenberg is Director of Energy Studies in the Building Laboratory at the University of Oregon. At the college, he also serves as a Professor of Architecture and Director of the Institute for Health in the Built Environment. His experience includes consulting on several hundred new construction and major renovation projects focused on daylight and energy in buildings since 2000. He has also published dozens of research papers, and regularly presents at industry events.


Mahic is a Research Associate of Energy Studies in the Building Laboratory at the University of Oregon. He holds a Master of Architecture degree from the University of Idaho and his primary focus is on daylighting simulation. His work includes energy efficiency research, technical assistance, and outreach and he has supported hundreds of research projects over the past eight years.


Ward is a Research Assistant Professor of Energy Studies in the Building Laboratory at the University of Oregon. His background includes studies in both aerospace and nuclear engineering as well as work within Argonne National Labs computational group. At the University of Oregon, he enjoys the Building Laboratory’s hands-on and multidisciplinary approach to developing methods to make buildings more efficient and more pleasant to inhabit. His work focuses on on daylighting techniques and using computational fluid dynamics to inform passive ventilation strategies and includes several energy-conservation projects.

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