28 September 2021

Lighting control systems and you

Photo by Reinaldo Kevin on Unsplash

Without quite realizing it, my bedroom's part of a quiet revolution in commercial lighting control systems. In the old days, when someone wanted to turn on the lights, all he or she had to do was turn on a light switch. But that's not quite how it's done any more.

Here's what I mean and here's how this relates to me. When I get up in the middle of the night I don't fumble around in the dark like I used to. They were dark ages, literally. 

Instead, I say "Alexa, turn on the light." And almost by magic, the light on my night stand turns on and I can make my way to the bathroom without stubbing a toe. I've been using a smart bulb linked to my Echo Dot for about a year now and it still seems like some kind of a high tech miracle. That I can also tell my light bulb to dim or turn off in an hour, or even turn on every evening at 7:13 makes me feel like I'm a character on The Jetsons.

But that's just me and a single bulb in a reading lamp. It's fun and it definitely makes my life a bit better. But what if, instead of a single reading lamp, someone could control all of the lighting in a busy restaurant or an international airport? What if, instead of just turning off and on or dimming, a lighting control system could help a building meet energy efficiency standards?

Well, those kinds of lighting control systems are here already. Such systems make my single smart bulb seem like an intellectual lightweight.

Lighting control systems play an essential role in today's modern commercial buildings. A well-designed lighting control system should achieve two primary objectives. 

First, it will provide a user with the ability to control the lights in their space best to meet their needs. A great example of this would be a restaurant, where the staff wants to control the dimming levels depending by the time of day. 

The second objective of a lighting control system is to meet energy code requirements. Everyone wants to save energy, but Federal, State, and City codes mandate specific energy codes that must be followed. Energy codes are designed to reduce costs and energy consumption by automating light fixtures. These codes account for things like the amount of natural light coming into the space or if the room is occupied or not. Some more progressive energy codes require lighting control systems to dim the lighting if there is a high energy demand and the energy grid is stressed. 

Lighting control systems used to be large cabinets of dimmers or relays installed in a mechanical room and connected to a computer that required a programmer or integrator to make them work. Modern lighting control systems take a different approach to lighting control by providing a control system that installs faster, works out of the box and can be activated in minutes by anyone with a smartphone. These systems come in both wireless and wired setups, which allow it to be installed in new construction or be retrofitted into an existing building.

Think of it as a smart bulb but for a whole building. Ten years ago, I was in Germany for a meeting. During a break I walked into the men's room and the lights came on as soon as I walked into the room. I'd never seen anything like it and I was amazed by those motion detected lights. 

Lighting control systems have come a long, long way since then and I invite you to learn more about them before your next project.

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