As new illumination technologies gain acceptance and energy efficiency looms more important than ever, fully integrated lighting control systems are emerging as the favoured solution

Today’s building owners, both commercial and residential, are increasingly demanding advanced levels of control over their facilities. As a result, automated control systems, dedicated to services such as lighting, temperature, audiovisual and blinds, are becoming commonplace. The plethora of such systems is being shadowed by the increasing need for energy-efficient performance.

Historically, separate vendors supplied control systems for each application. Yet, while individual control systems go some way to achieving accurate control and streamlined management of building services, building owners are rapidly recognising the benefits of implementing a single integrated system from which all services can be controlled.

Lighting control systems capable of incorporating third party systems are emerging as a critical component of integrated systems.

Integrated information

Interoperability between individual ‘best of breed’ control systems is the key to successful integration. The challenge is to integrate multiple systems while maintaining the high levels of specialised functionality of each one.

There are many ways of achieving this. One is to attempt to interconnect all systems on one network using a single communication protocol. This can work, but tends to limit the functionality of the overall system.

An alternative method is to interconnect separate systems in a way that enables the overall system to leverage and share available data, irrespective of the communication protocols.

As a result, there is a trend for building owners to use a TCP/IP-based ethernet network or a building services Lan (BSL, which is separate from the traditional IT-based Lan).

A BSL provides an efficient platform for the various control systems to interconnect using a range of communications protocols. Each of the control systems can be isolated or made selectively visible using simple masking techniques and gateway software.

As a result, a number of systems capable of accommodating complex functionality and incorporating the control of new and legacy lighting load types such as LED and organic LED are emerging.

The ability to support multiple communications protocols – such as DCom, OPC, LonWorks, BacNet, DMX512, RS232, RS485, TCP/IP, infrared, Dali and Modbus – is a feature essential to such systems. This allows separate control systems to share information, such as status and control functions, and goes some way to permitting high levels of interoperability.

Further interoperability can be achieved via use of ethernet gateways, which enable point-to-point or broadcast linking to other control systems and browser-based control.

Efficient by nature

There is an increasing push for lighting control systems that actually return dividends to the building owner in the form of energy savings.

This movement is complemented by the evolution of building regulations and the increased value placed on environmental design and performance-rating tools. Here, integration plays a major role.

By their very nature, integrated lighting control and automation systems are an effective energy management tool. By ensuring lighting is only activated when and where it is required, energy savings can be realised and money saved.

The majority of building regulations can only be satisfied by using an integrated lighting control system that offers high levels of control.

Strategic management

An important and often underestimated consideration is accommodating changes within the building once constructed. Newer buildings are often designed to be flexible in their layout and functionality. Also, over its lifetime, a building will experience ‘building churn’, where tenancies change, staff numbers fluctuate and office activities vary. Here, the lighting system must also be adaptable.

By adopting a scalable, distributed approach to lighting control, building owners can avoid wasteful, intrusive lighting refurbs and extend the lifetime of their system.

Other energy-saving strategies include ‘daylight harvesting’ and luminaire dimming. Often natural light levels need only be enhanced with small amounts of artificial light. Automated lighting control systems with luminaire dimming allow building owners to vary the amount of artificial light delivered to different areas of the building at different times of the day.

This goes some way to reducing energy use during peak demand hours to take advantage of reduced off-peak electrical rates.

LED the way

The emergence of LEDs as a commercial lighting and energy management option is an exciting prospect as they draw much less current than fluorescent luminaires or incandescent bulbs.

LED systems now often replace incandescent light sources and may eventually replace fluorescents, but LED system development raises many practical control issues.

The sticking point is that there is no standard way of controlling LED fixtures. Lighting control system providers need to accommodate current LED control methodologies, as well as provide scope to evolve with, and accommodate, new illumination technologies.

The challenge will be for lighting solution providers to invest heavily in research and development to produce a new generation of controllers that can use a variety of lighting systems. In the short term, enhancements to Dali controllers and phase-control dimmers, and new load-specific modules for modular controllers will go some way to addressing this transitional period.

There is also the longer-term challenge of integrating LED and OLED – and emergency lighting – systems into one control scheme.

The functional and energy-saving potential of lighting control systems is an exciting prospect. Whether it’s building-wide controllability or world-class energy management, fully integrated lighting control systems will be critical in the success of modern building developments.