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Connected Lighting and Decarbonisation

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By Nikos Pallasidis
13 June 2023

Portfolio Manager - Lighting

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As we continue to grapple with the impacts of climate change, there is a growing need for decarbonisation in various sectors. While the term decarbonisation has become part of our everyday vocabulary, there are aspects of it that may not yet have a clear correlation in our minds with the real qualities and quantities associated with it. Heavy industry is understandably the first candidate for action, still, some other areas do not get the attention they should.

We all know that anything using energy has a carbon footprint. But how many times have we considered that our own actions, the way we behave or move in space, and the way we interact with our surroundings also have an associated carbon footprint? It may not be always obvious but it is still there, either directly or indirectly. A factory worker making a mistake in an assembly line results in an increased CO2 footprint. The same could be said for an office worker that accidentally deleted a file and has to start all over, duplicating the work and effectively the energy required for the whole process. A student that may struggle to concentrate and takes more time than usual to solve a problem, any action that takes more time or effort than usual, all add to our CO2 footprint. Although the reasons for the above may be many and not necessarily associated, studies have shown that one major factor is related to the environmental conditions around us. Temperature comfort, noise, and light are some of them. Given the fact that, typically, 80% of our world perception comes through our eyes, light and the way we control it play a significant role in our lives.

Lighting controls have come a long way since the first solid-state dimmer switch appeared, 64 years ago. All this time they have evolved following a rather exponential curve, as most of the electronics and IT products. Today’s lighting controls can do much more than simply adjust the output of a light source. They are now hybrid systems that combine microelectronics and Information technology; their functionality is not just lighting control but rather a system that brings together the world of data and information with that of electrical energy, lighting and automation.

Connected lighting is a quite broad term to describe a plethora of advanced systems whose benefits extend beyond energy efficiency. These systems are an advanced form of lighting control that use IoT technology to connect lighting fixtures, sensors, and other devices to a network. This allows for real-time monitoring and control of lighting systems, enabling building operators to optimise lighting levels based on occupancy, daylight availability, and other factors. Like traditional control systems, they use sensors to detect occupancy and adjust lighting levels accordingly, ensuring that lighting is only used when and where it is needed and reducing energy consumption and emissions.

Similarly, they also use sensors to detect natural light levels and adjust artificial light levels accordingly, reducing the need for artificial lighting during daylight hours.

However, a significant difference is that the measurable qualities are not limited to presence, energy or light levels. Different types of sensors, such as air quality, humidity, real-time location sensing and many others can be utilised depending on the system used. Unlike traditional lighting control where the type of sensors were limited and sometimes locked behind a single vendor, many systems are now supported by a whole ecosystem of devices.

But what really differentiates connected lighting from the previous forms of lighting control is the ability to gather data and communicate with other systems in ways that further enhance their use and benefits.

Connected lighting systems can provide building operators with real-time data on energy consumption and usage patterns. They can check the status of emergency lighting, run diagnostics and alert for any potential issues. The reporting capabilities of modern connected lighting systems are far more than pure lists of numbers or spreadsheets. Most systems can now create and distribute personalised reports depending on the user access, and the information can vary from simple energy reports to advanced space occupancy, trends of space usage and predictive failure analysis.

Data visualisation with heatmaps can greatly increase our understanding of otherwise abstract qualities, such as the way people move in a space, how the energy consumption is distributed throughout a building during the day, or maybe discover why certain areas have disproportionally higher failure rates than others. The correlation and comparison between different reports can lead us to insights that were previously improbable or even impossible.

In addition to these features, connected lighting systems can also integrate with other building automation systems, such as HVAC and security systems, to further improve energy efficiency and occupant comfort.

Remote control is another important aspect of connected lighting. The systems can be controlled remotely using a smartphone app or web-based dashboard, depending on the access level and security clearance of the respective user. This allows building operators to adjust lighting levels and settings from anywhere, at any time, improving the flexibility and convenience of lighting systems. For example, there could be a different setting for lighting and janitorial services or security guard patrols. All this information can be used to identify areas for improvement and optimize lighting systems for maximum efficiency. Lighting is considered to use roughly a third of the total energy in the building. The direct energy savings by standard lighting controls can vary from 30% to 70% depending on the application; this, combined with the indirect benefits of a connected Lighting system can have a substantial impact on the carbon footprint reduction of a building.

Connected lighting systems are a powerful tool for achieving energy-efficient lighting and reducing emissions. By leveraging IoT technology to optimize lighting levels and reduce energy consumption, building operators can save on energy costs, improve occupant comfort and productivity, and contribute to a more sustainable future. With financial incentives in place to encourage the adoption of energy-efficient technologies, now is the time to invest in connected lighting systems and other advanced lighting solutions. Lighting controls used to be a “necessary evil” in the building industry. Today, connected lighting is an essential service, the key to achieving the performance and energy efficiency required. It may have initially been associated with convenience and practicality, later with human-centric lighting or circadian rhythms but the truth is that today, its role extends to much more.

Connected lighting has passed the infancy stage of development; it is now a mature technology and we are just in the beginning of a very interesting and promising journey.

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