Unless your building is lit with LED lighting, leaving the lights on even for a few minutes can be a drain on both the life of the bulb and resources. When that energy expenditure is multiplied by the cost of a general or peak period, the savings from keeping the lights off can be substantial. In the case of incandescent lighting, the majority of the energy expenditure is heat, not light, which raises the temperature of the room. Leaving the lights on in summer months can trigger the air conditioner, resulting in an even higher power bill.
Turning the lights off is good advice, but it’s a hard habit to follow. That’s where automated lighting comes in handy. Every time a person enters a room, the lights will turn on. Once there are no occupants, the lights will turn off. Automated lights can even sense the amount of natural light in the room, turning off when sunlight offers enough illumination and turning back on when it gets dark. Human memory may have its faults, but a computer relies on consistent programming to ensure that the lights stay at the appropriate level.
Automated lighting isn’t limited to one design. For whatever type of lighting, there’s a fixture for it. Regardless of the layout, every automated system needs a way to control it, but choosing the right one can be complicated. Whether it’s an independent fixture control, a whole system circuit-level control or connected individual fixture level controls, each one offers both benefits and drawbacks, which is why it’s necessary to consider how each one works before integrating a retrofit.
Independent Fixture Controls
The simplest applications often have the most utility. This type of control system utilizes occupancy sensors to determine whether or not someone is in a particular area or daylight sensors to monitor the amount of external light in that area. This type of control system is relatively inexpensive, and depending on usage, utilizing this system can result in substantial savings.
Independent control fixtures are easy to install and just as easy to maintain. Each sensor is self-contained, so there is no complicated software to monitor or a centralized system accounting for the entire area. With the improved return on this type of set-up, it’s difficult to find many negatives, but independent control fixtures aren’t for everyone. The drawback to this type of configuration is in its lack of customization. The sensors cannot be tweaked individually to the personal tastes of the occupant, which may not always provide a satisfactory level of lighting. However, the cost savings and ease of use can make this drawback an even compromise.
Whole System Circuit-Level Controls
In this type of system, all of the fixtures are linked together, which means they respond in a zoned area as one unit. Movement in one smaller part of the zone will still trigger the entire zone to respond appropriately. This type of system will also cost more to install and maintain and will take longer to reach the same level of return as independent fixture controls will.
The main benefit of this configuration is in occupant satisfaction as automated fixtures can be mixed in with standard fixtures for more manual control of an area. This type of system is best for a project where occupant satisfaction is just as important as savings.
Connected Individual Fixture Level Controls
Also known as “smart lighting,” this system is nearly limitless in its level of customization. While each fixture is fitted with a sensor, these fixtures are all networked to a central control for more advanced configurations. A worker at a workstation may not require an entire zone to be illuminated. With smart lighting, the central control can turn on one light at maximum brightness over the workstation and then set surrounding areas at half capacity to provide enough illumination to navigate without wasting energy. Being able to control the lighting on such a sophisticated level can improve satisfaction immensely while still netting significant savings.
The drawback of this system that seems to anticipate the needs of its occupants is in its cost. Installation can be very complex, and maintenance can be equally demanding. While the energy savings will add up over time, the initial cost will delay the return for a much longer period of time. Smart lighting options also used to be limited by manufacturer, meaning each system was only compatible with its own parts. This meant that choosing a manufacturer was, in essence, marrying a business to that manufacturer for the life of the system. With universal protocols now in place, this issue has been laid to rest, and those interested in smart lighting can choose whatever products best suit their needs. For a company with a high retrofit budget and where employee satisfaction is a major concern, smart lighting is the optimal choice.
While there isn’t a perfect lighting solution that works for everyone, there is a perfect lighting solution for each client. Every system can be the right choice depending upon the needs of a particular business. The fact is that anything a business can do to reduce energy costs and limit its environmental impact is a smart decision right where it counts: the bottom line.
Danielle Stewart is a media consultant for [P2] Precision Paragon.