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The story of smart building lighting systems began in the 1950s with a young physicist named Joel Spira. Fresh out of Purdue University, Spira worked at a defense contractor, where he was tasked with developing a reliable trigger for tactical nuclear warheads. His research involved a device called a thyristor, a solid-state semiconductor, which he recognized as a device that could also vary light intensity.
Spira tested ways in which this device could mute the light of ordinary light bulbs to mimic how stage lights operated as a way for people to add ambiance at dinner parties. The technology to dim lights on theater stages used a device called the rheostat, the application of which was prohibitively expensive outside the stage. While the rheostat absorbed electrical energy and converted it into heat instead of light, the thyristor offered a more economical means by which to dim lights, interrupting the electrical current rather than absorbing it. The thyristor also had an added benefit: the bulbs lasted longer and used less electricity.
This discovery resulted in the invention of the dimmer and the birth of the modern lighting controls industry. From this lowly lighting dimmer came other energy-saving devices that not only enhance efficiency, but make buildings safer and more comfortable for their occupants. Today, a smart building lighting system is a must-have in virtually any commercial building.
One of the largest areas of energy consumption in any building is its lighting system. This can have a significant effect on operating costs and, hence, the financial well-being of businesses. However, it also has larger implications. According to research by the International Energy Agency, the demand for energy in built environments will rise by 50% by 2050 unless specific actions are taken to improve efficiency. Smart lighting systems are a powerful opportunity to reduce that energy demand and minimize the environmental impact of commercial buildings.
There is also another compelling reason to install a smart building lighting system: the occupant experience.
While most building owners install smart building lighting systems to save costs, this technology can also allow you to create safer, healthier, and more comfortable spaces for occupants. Intelligent lighting systems use IoT sensors and advanced analytics to automatically adjust lighting levels to create healthy illumination according to individuals’ preferences, occupancy, availability of daylight, and other factors. This isn’t just convenient—researchers have found that it can affect human health.
Poor lighting can also lead to safety hazards, cause accidents, decrease productivity, and affect work quality, especially when a task requires precision. And it’s not just the lighting level that matters; the type of light bulb should be taken into account. A 2008 study estimated that fluorescent lighting can trigger health issues in 12-14% of the world’s population, including nausea, ADD/ADHD, dyslexia, stress, and migraines. This is particularly common amongst workers in office buildings.
Smart lighting systems help to ensure that lighting is appropriate for the environment, responsive to the changing needs of occupants, and doesn’t compromise health.
Today, many new commercial buildings are designed with smart lighting systems in mind. However, most smart building lighting systems involve retrofitting older buildings with new technology. This can present a number of challenges.
If a building’s lighting system is not connected to the central building management system (BMS), it cannot share data that relates to other building systems, which means you are missing out on important opportunities for optimization. Older smart building lighting systems also require updating over time; a system that seemed cutting-edge 5 years ago may already be outdated and can’t offer the advanced capabilities needed to keep up with current best practices. For example, newer systems allow you to customize illumination in multiple zones according to multiple variables, whereas many older systems offer only a single zone. This limited functionality keeps you from realizing many of the most important advantages of a smart building lighting system.
A smart building lighting system offers a way to conserve energy and reduce costs as well as promote the comfort, health, and safety of a building’s occupants—but there is a caveat. Any integrated system—whether for lighting or other automated systems—requires thoughtful architecture, a capable contractor, and, sometimes, custom software. The complexity and ever-changing nature of modern automated lighting systems mean professionals not only need experience, but must continuously learn about new developments in lighting technology and building automation.
Whether in a new build or retrofit, two of the most common problems with smart building lighting systems are:
Inexperienced installers often lack the expertise to properly configure advanced lighting systems and controls. This can result in issues such as motion sensors not working or timers not set correctly. Like an engine, a smart building’s lighting system requires careful tuning and will offer the most benefit only when installed correctly.
LED & Smart Building Lighting Systems
While LED lighting is an energy-efficient option, it can sometimes interfere with the building’s wireless network. Certain types of LED bulbs have been found to interfere with wireless frequencies that many modern smart buildings rely on to communicate between devices and building management systems. This can mean problems in highly networked environments and may even require a power conditioner to shield from electromagnetic interference.
The right partner can mean the difference between a successful upgrade and a costly mistake. Choosing a master system integrator (MSI) with the expertise and resources to create a solution according to your requirements will allow you to maximize your return on investment and achieve your goals. From choosing the best components to seamlessly integrating legacy systems with cutting-edge technology, an industry-leading MSI can help you create a truly smart, flexible, and future-proof building lighting system.
Jason draws on his experience in IT, lighting controls and integrated building management systems to write about commercial real estate industry trends and Buildings IOT customer success.