Make Magic with Networked Lighting Controls
Energy-saving goals and energy codes are taking advantage of several technologies to create more efficient and cleaner buildings. New solutions and startups appear to be popping up more frequently and promise advances that seem magical. Best stated by Arthur C Clarke, "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic."
Networked Versus Standalone Lighting Controls
A networked lighting controls system allows for the communication of wireless or wired control devices in a single space to other areas of the building. The communication and function of these distributed room devices is controlled by a centralized device or app, acting as the command center. This system takes the controllability of the space further with timeclock functions, controlling multiple spaces together, master keypads, and integration of touchscreens.
A networked system is also capable of tying into other connected systems within the building such as BAS, security, fire alarm, AV, IT systems and more. It puts the power of data into the end users' hands with the ability to track occupancy, monitor energy consumption, master controls and even make adjustments to the function of the devices throughout their building or even multiple buildings. This differs from a standalone lighting controls system in that it is a single or group of devices to control the lighting within an isolated space or area of the building. The wireless or wired devices - lighting controllers, sensors, and keypads within that room - have the ability to communicate with one another in order to meet a limited design intent (i.e. on/off, dimming, scene selection, daylight harvesting, etc).
The challenge of cost continues to be the elephant in the room on any project. Ultimately, a networked lighting controls solution is more costly than standalone systems but offers a plethora of benefits in the long term. A project is often stripped of its beauty and functionality through the rigorous process that is value engineering. One of the first items to be axed is lighting and controls. In the majority of applications, the bare minimum to allow for code compliance is left. Typically, these are standalone controls with dimming and/or occupancy timeouts.
What we often overlook is that some lighting control manufacturers, such as Casambi and Crestron, use the same "building blocks" of devices for both standalone and networked applications. This means that the same in-room devices, such as load controllers, occupancy sensors and keypads, are used, whether the applications are standalone or networked. Standalone systems that have the ability to turn into a networked system and those that do not are in line costwise with one another.
This means we can phase out the scope of intelligent lighting controls such that there is the eventual ability to have a fully sophisticated system down the line.
How do we do this? Simple!
Start with a list of manufacturers that use the same in-room devices for networked and standalone systems and create designs with both. During tender, make sure that standalone devices that do not have the flexibility and scalability are not included in the package. Install as much of the hardware as possible to minimize the overall cost down the road. Items like processors and gateways can be added to the project as part of a future phase. Confirm if running additional cabling prior can be included as part of the scope if the budget allows for it.
In future budget allowances, bring in the networking hardware and commissioning of the system. Technologies like Casambi take this one step further by not requiring a processor to turn a standalone solution into a networked one. Casambi’s nodes live in load controllers, light fixtures, switches and sensors to create a low-energy bluetooth mesh system to control any number of lights in a room, floor or building. Some projects may even have the possibility of not requiring additional hardware and installation. The future phases can purely be time spent commissioning the system to be better and smoother. The more commissioning time, the extra layers of sophistication we can bring to a system. This includes, but is not limited to, adding harsher timeouts, dimming further to reduce energy consumption, integration across other building systems and others.
Note to stay consistent with in-room device manufacturers throughout the various potential phases of projects. The fewer manufacturers, the less need to manage multiple systems and complex scopes of integration and restriction each manufacturer brings.
The scientific advancement of modern-day lighting control technologies has allowed lighting controls to be the eyes and ears of your building to provide significant amounts of data to further optimize solutions. This phasing of projects using standalone lighting controls with the flexibility of future networking capabilities allows for there to always be the opportunity for your building to have the sophistication it needs and deserves and puts the magic of the building into the users' hands.■