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The benefits of lighting control – for both clients and contractors – are well within reach, writes Tony Biggs of Lutron Electronics
The LED revolution in lighting is old news. Another revolution is on the horizon, and it’s potentially even bigger.
Any lighting engineer will tell you that the most efficient light fixture is one that’s not in use. That’s where the next revolution begins: lighting controls. Controls vary from simple standalone on/off switches to networked, building-wide systems. The rise of LEDs, which are essentially electronic chips, has spurred on the growth of digital controls, because LEDs require control to be properly managed, and they enable more sophisticated control of light than ever before. In fact, the market for lighting controls is forecast to grow more than 10% a year over the next five years.
Controls represent a huge opportunity for contractors to increase the scale and value of projects, and to achieve a better outcome for everyone. But… although introducing lighting controls is easier than ever, it’s an opportunity that’s often missed.
The good news is that convincing customers to invest in lighting controls is easier than you might think, and the potential rewards bigger than you might expect. Here’s why.
Easier To Save Energy
Drive through any city at night and you’ll see empty buildings with all their lights on. Energy – and therefore money – is being wasted all around us. But the technology is here to solve it.
Thousands of homeowners and building operators are already making from switching to LED. On top of these savings, they can also achieve substantial reductions in energy use with controls. Switching or dimming lights in response to presence detection and daylight levels, for instance, can save between 20% and 60% of lighting energy.
But before we get to dimming, it’s worth asking whether the light level from installed fittings is correct in the first place. Many retrofit projects aim to match existing light levels – but this is not always necessary. Most offices are actually overlit. LED upgrades can end up perpetuating this.
Controls can fix this by automatically trimming-off the top end of the dimming range, creating a better environment and reducing energy use for lighting by 10-30%. This can save the customer money over time for electricity that they didn’t need to be using. This is an opportunity that many users won’t be aware of, and an easy way for contractors to add value.
Easier For Clients To Afford
As a supplier, it’s easy to talk up the value of long-term savings from installing or upgrading lighting and controls. But inevitably there’s an upfront cost, and if it’s too high, the project just won’t happen. But there is help.
The Enhanced Capital Allowance (ECA) scheme gives businesses tax breaks on certain energy-saving products that meet the criteria for the government’s Energy Technology List (ETL), including lighting controls. This means that businesses can get back a substantial portion of the upfront cost of a controls system through a reduced tax bill. For contractors, this is an opportunity to promote higher value products and make more money.
Funding is also available for energy-efficiency projects from bodies such as Salix Finance, which provides loans to public sector organisations (including schools, hospitals and local authority buildings), and the Carbon Trust, which provides similar services to the private sector. Both allow users to pay back the upfront cost of new technology from the savings made on energy bills, which will make the system free or very inexpensive to them. This kind of funding can allow customers to increase the size of a project they’re investing in, or it can even make the difference between a project getting the go-ahead at all. Salix Finance has backed tens of thousands of projects totalling nearly £600 million.
Controls even make it possible for businesses to earn money back from the electricity grid by automatically reducing lighting loads during peak electricity usage times.
Easier To Install
In many cases, the cost and disruption of installing controls is a major hurdle for customers. But it doesn’t have to be this way. Many lighting control systems are now wireless and require no – or very little – new cabling.
Lutron’s Energi TriPak system, for example, uses wireless RF modules that attach to luminaires and communicate wirelessly. A variety of wireless controllers are available too, which can be placed almost anywhere.
Easier To Sell The Benefits
Saving energy is the most talked-about benefit of lighting controls. But the advantages of good light go beyond that.
Take workplaces, for example. Whatever a client is spending on a lighting or electrical project will pale in comparison to what they spend on their people.
In offices, staff costs typically account for about 90% of a business’s operating costs. That means that anything affecting the productivity of staff is a big deal. If better lighting contributes to even a small improvement on how productive people are, or how many days they take off sick, then the benefits outweigh the costs.
Good quality light in offices has been shown to have positive effects on the mood and performance of workers. Controls play a key role in this, making it easier to adjust light to people’s needs or for different tasks or times of day, enabling integration of daylight in offices, and giving individuals more control over their light, which has been shown to make them more satisfied. Controls can even be used to tweak the colour temperature of light, to adjust the ambience of a space.
The flexibility brought by lighting controls also has significant benefits in places like meeting rooms, where a choice of lighting “scenes” can create a better experience for presentations and meetings.
Easier To Make Changes Later
Controls are all about flexibility. If a client’s needs change, controls mean the lighting scheme can easily adapt.
For instance, if a meeting room takes on a new purpose, if workstations are moved, or if issues with lighting become apparent after a business moves into a new space, a good lighting control system can easily adjust to fit the new scenario.
Control systems also open up the potential for clients to introduce extra features and functions in future, harnessing the internet of things (IoT). By incorporating sensors and intelligence into light fittings, it’s possible to track movement of people, monitor temperature, light levels and air quality, and analyse the data for the benefit of the business. The IoT is still in its infancy, but it’s going to be huge. Even if businesses aren’t ready to take advantage of it, they may want to futureproof their operations by making themselves ready for it.
A controls system also allows clients to introduce daylight control later if they choose to, in the form of automated shading, which responds to changing light or heat levels. Control of automated shades can be integrated with control of indoor lighting through a Lutron system.