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Confused about lighting and the IoT? Leading manufacturers answer the industry’s most common questions about the features, functions, benefits and future of networked lighting control systems.

Martin Mercier P. Eng., strategic marketing manager, IoT/connected systems, Cooper Lighting Solutions
Jason Oliver vice president of controls, RAB Lighting
Steven Roe vice president of controls solutions, Acuity Brands Lighting Inc.

Over the last several years, the subject of lighting and the Internet of Things (IoT) has become highly publicized in the industry—and also the source of a great deal of complexity and confusion. With current investments in networked lighting control systems beginning to yield dividends and the technology expected to have a significant impact on a broad range of industry segments and applications in the coming years, it behooves IMARK members to familiarize themselves with the basics of these emerging and beneficial systems.

Following, experts at several key lighting control manufacturers answer some of the industry’s most common questions regarding the features, functions, benefits, applications for and the future of networked lighting control systems.

IMARK Electrical Now: How would you define a networked lighting control system and what are its key physical components?

Jason Oliver, RAB Lighting (Northvale, New Jersey): The two key factors are the ability for devices to communicate with each other in order to implement lighting control strategies (whether wireless or wired) and the ability to communicate with that system of devices to control and configure them. Devices are made up of sensors (motion, light, etc.), actuators (controllers, smart drivers, etc.) and controls (dimmers, touch pads, etc.).

Steven Roe, Acuity Brands Lighting Inc. (Decatur, Georgia): Networked lighting controls can take a variety of forms and usually fall within three categories, with each building off the prior one. First are “locally connected” controls, which are field devices (e.g., sensors, control inputs and intelligent luminaires) communicating with one another, typically at a room level. Second are “fully networked” controls, which are generally field devices communicating with a controller or gateway device, typically at a floor or building level. Finally, there are “networked and integrated” controls, which are “fully networked” controls with connectivity to a building/corporate IP network or cloud infrastructure.

Martin Mercier, Cooper Lighting Solutions (Peachtree City, Georgia): Per the definition that came from the first computers sharing data, a network is a collection of two or more devices that can communicate data, wired or wirelessly, following a specific architecture such as a hub, ring and star topology. The same applies for the lighting industry and, more specifically, would typically consist of addressable luminaires, controls and, more recently, sensors, allowing luminaires to be controlled, programmed, and able to share valuable data back to a smartphone, computer and server. In brief, the key components are luminaires, gateways, controllers (including both sensing and non-sensing) and sensors.

IMARK Electrical Now: What’s the relationship between networked lighting and the IoT?

Oliver: The essence of a networked lighting control system is an “Internet of Things”—e.g., inputs and outputs connected over the internet (or the IoT, a term that’s taken on a larger scale) of all devices that have the ability to communicate with each other to form a network like no other. Some believe that the IoT is the next layer of functionality over the basic controls, such as “way finding,” though in my opinion both qualify as the IoT.

Roe: The idea behind the IoT has encouraged communication between systems and the pursuit of common, shared data between systems—largely made available via open protocols allowing systems to share information. IoT is most often identifying the way in which data is exchanged between devices and systems. This can take a variety of forms with networked lighting, including integration with a building management system (BMS) for intelligent building operation that leverages the networked lighting infrastructure and data, advanced graphics with information about the operation of multiple systems, and intelligent capabilities above and beyond lighting control, such as realtime location services.

Mercier: With the arrival of LED technology, we could now control lights as needed and not only have the right light but also the right timing for the application—for example, controlling a parking luminaire’s spill light to the surrounding neighborhood, shutting down the lights in warehouses at night or turning off lighting to indicate that a park is temporarily closed. With the proliferation of communication technologies such as 4G mobile technology, ZigBee, LORA, Bluetooth, etc., we could then network our devices to “connect” our customers to their products so that they could maximize lighting levels, schedules and maintenance for greater energy savings, occupant comfort and worker productivity. Since lighting is everywhere, networked lighting could now be used as a conduit through which end users could connect with devices’ valuable information; this is when networked lighting got into the IoT and started being implemented into “smart” cities and building projects. The lighting industry is now involved in more connected city initiatives and is thinking beyond connected lighting assets.

A decade ago, lighting manufacturers introduced luminaires with radio devices such as the Zigbee local wireless network, 4G cellular communication, etc. to control luminaires remotely, which created a network of lighting-related devices. With the digitalization of our customer assets, such as cities and buildings, an opportunity developed to contribute by leveraging the lighting infrastructure that was being upgraded to LEDs. This provided grounds for other manufacturers’ and industries’ IoT devices to be a backbone for further data and information, which is at the heart of IoT. As coined by U.K. mathematician Clive Humby, “data is the new oil” in smart cities and connected building initiatives. There’s a need to collect information and communicate it to servers to be analyzed, refined and consumed.

IMARK Electrical Now: Do you foresee a time when all LED lighting fixtures come standardly equipped with sensors, and is that practical?

Roe: LED lighting fixtures with embedded sensors are happening today, and their adoption will continue to grow.

There are a number of key influences, such as advances in intelligent LED drivers (featuring both digital communication and DC power capabilities), simplified installation and service for the electrical contractor and customer and simplified design, all while still meeting the increasingly stringent energy code requirements. Based on the market’s focus on collecting and sharing data for the IoT and for general interconnectivity between systems, we’ll likely see fixtures with embedded sensors proliferate based on how easily they allow for granular analytics, improved lighting control and unconstrained configurability that’s geared for tomorrow’s needs.

Mercier: It’s hard to predict when 100% of our lighting will be equipped with a sensor of some kind, but a vast majority of new indoor installations will occur within the next five to 10 years. For outdoor applications, it will probably be in the next 10-15 years based on the lack of cost-effective technologies. There are several initiatives underway that will simplify sensor integration and communication with an open network.

For example, there’s an indoor and outdoor luminaire sensor interface standardization and certification (D4i) released that will help accelerate sensor integration. For customers looking to improve their operations with new smart devices, leveraging their lighting infrastructure is often the easiest path.

Oliver: Our goal at RAB is that eventually all lighting is smart. Controls shouldn’t be appendages and afterthoughts, but rather core to the fixture, and with that kind of volume, costs will come down. This is practical and expected, potentially in the next five years.

IMARK Electrical Now: Terms like "networked lighting" and "IoT" have been around for several years now. From your experience, please assess the level of excitement over, engagement with or confusion over this technology from customers, installers and sales personnel.

Oliver: The level of confusion is high, there are few standards, there’s little education and the options are numerous, even in a single system. I do see excitement and engagement starting to grow, but it’s still just a fraction of the addressable market; based on the complexities, it’s easier and more profitable for some to just sell what they know. This is another reason to make this technology standard to the fixture, as it will be easier to sell and will delight the customer.

Mercier: Education is key when it comes to new technology and the IoT, even before working on the right value-based pricing. Before LED technology, the last revolution in lighting came around 1962 with a new HID metal halide lamp. Since the LED revolution in the past 15 years, things have been moving fast. From immersion into the solid-state lighting (SSL) electronic world to networking and smart IoT devices, our industry has a lot to learn, which is key to capturing opportunities now and in the future.

Roe: “Networked lighting” and “IoT” have grown to mean many things, often depending on the audience. Even with this ambiguity, however, the value of networked lighting is real for all involved in the projects. Customer benefits include increased energy savings, greater comfort through additional control over the lighting, granular analytics and re-configurability of the space as building needs change. Given the trend toward wireless controls, installers will benefit from reduced complexity of installations. And thanks to new and advanced capabilities that support business needs, excitement by salespeople and end users will grow.


IMARK Electrical Now: Please share an example of a success story which includes measurable benefits for a customer. Any ‘killer apps?’

Mercier: Thanks to a recent downtown project in a U.S. city, environmental acoustic noise sensors mounted on luminaires measure sound levels on the street to understand some of the activities happening. Once collected, sent to the server and analyzed, the data generated allows the city to create realtime and historical timelines and map/list views of code violations, burglar alerts, etc. The city can also play on-demand sounds received to further analyze what’s needed to take proper action. A related "killer app" recognizes gunshot detection, currently deployed in some cities and campuses and sometimes attached to poles or luminaires. As another example, retail applications with indoor positioning systems (IPS), enabled by the lighting luminaires, can help customers find items on their store phone app shopping list by guiding them to the item's exact location. It also alerts customers walking an aisle about previously purchased promotions and can help employees refill shelves at night. Another example is “nature lighting” in health care applications, in which we use lighting to reproduce outdoor lighting inside the building. We recreate the right exposure to the light during the day as well as the right colors and dynamics, which strongly influence patient mood, energy levels, comfort and quality of sleep. Workers and patient health and well-being in general are greatly impacted.

Oliver: RAB’s networked lighting controls and circadian rhythm system, SmartShift powered by Lightcloud, was recently adopted by a large assisted care corporation. In addition to the energy-saving benefits which all controls offer, the corporation has, in a short period of time, seen a demonstrable reduction in patient falls, which has not only helped enhance safety and quality of life for patients, but also resulted in lower insurance costs for the corporation, which more than covers the cost of the system.

IMARK Electrical Now: What types of end-user customers have been most interested in using networked lighting to generate/gather information about their facility, and why?

Roe: The most common customers that leverage networked lighting to collect information about their facility are those who manage either large or multi-building (e.g., campus) facilities. Commercial offices use networked lighting to more quickly adjust settings for tenants/occupants in the space. Overall, networked lighting systems help customers assess energy consumption and space utilization, which of course leads to more knowledgeable management decisions.

Oliver: Industrial factories and warehouses are large consumers of energy and can therefore leverage a lot of information to continuously adjust their system and extend their savings, both in energy consumption and facility utilization.

Mercier: In indoor applications, facility managers, c-suite executives and major retail executives are interested in networked lighting as a way to improve their occupants’ well-being, experience and safety. For example, asset tracking via networked lighting can help hospitals and long-term care facilities improve daily operations by reducing the time needed to find their equipment by more than 30%. They can also improve patient safety with geofencing tools and, using LED luminaires, can add such functionality at a significantly lower cost and with a seamless and pleasing design. For industrial and warehouse applications, similar systems can significantly improve inventory management and order processing workflow. For outdoor applications, cities/utilities that are collaborating in smart city initiatives and looking to improve their operational efficiency with predictive maintenance, embedded local weather stations and 5G micro towers in a non-obtrusive design are most interested in networked lighting. While upgrading their street lighting, they use this opportunity to include additional sensors that are networked with luminaire controllers and can share data back to the city, utility and other developers’ system servers through application programming interfaces (APIs).

IMARK Electrical Now: Do you think that lighting is currently perceived to be among the best and most popular platforms for gathering data via the IoT? If not, which platforms are more popular and why?

Oliver: Everyone needs lights, lights have power and they’re everywhere, so it makes sense that they can be the backbone of an IoT system. However, we’re in the early days, only proprietary systems can offer any additional information, and, in reality, most people don’t know what to do with all of the data yet. HVAC and BMS probably have a head start on lighting, as they consume more power, have more opportunities for savings and have been at it longer. At the same time, they’re on arcane systems and don’t have the reach that lighting does, plus they typically only work indoors. Networked lighting should ultimately be the backbone for all systems in a building.

Roe: I don’t think that lighting is currently perceived to be the most popular platform for gathering data, as many lighting control solutions aren’t networked and integrated. I believe that building management systems are likely seen as leaders in the gathering of data. That being said, lighting is ubiquitous and has power available, so there’s significant upside potential on leveraging networked lighting for gathering data.

IMARK Electrical Now: What are some key obstacles that have inhibited the adoption of and growth prospects for networked lighting?

Mercier: Key obstacles include lack of education, lack of a standardized and open platform (resulting in the captivation of customers by unique manufacturer/vendor solutions), the cost and availability of the technology and, last but not least, past failures in similar projects.

Roe: Perceived increased cost and complexity are most often the key obstacles inhibiting the adoption and growth of networked lighting control systems. Wireless solutions, or hybrid wired and wireless solutions, will continue to diminish these obstacles. Cybersecurity is another obstacle, but a number of industry cybersecurity standards exist and are going through continuous evolution to ensure secure networks.

Oliver: Obstacles include a lack of education in the marketplace and limited customer demand and/or requirements for controls; it’s mostly early adopters who have the vision or requirement for networked lighting. Cost and complexity are still the largest barriers and have been for years, though I believe that the inflection point where price is no longer a barrier is close. As an industry, however, we need more end-user education to increase demand.

IMARK Electrical Now: How is the emergence of 5G likely to impact the adoption of networked lighting?

Oliver: Like any technology, easier, faster and cheaper improvements will spur adoption, though 5G is still probably two years away from having any meaningful impact. It will eventually reduce some complexity for lighting controls.

Mercier: 5G cellular technology will allow devices to be connected to the internet without needing human interaction, rendering it the primary enabler of the progression of IoT projects.

IMARK Electrical Now: What preparations should IMARK members take to successfully market/sell networked lighting products?

Roe: First and foremost, familiarize yourself with energy codes—as energy codes continue to become more stringent, networked lighting will often provide the easiest means of achieving energy code compliance. This doesn’t mean you need to be a code expert—instead, rely on manufacturers in the space that are familiar with energy codes to provide guidance, training and design tools/assistance as necessary to provide code-compliant solutions. Additionally, I’d recommend going a level deeper to understand networked lighting’s advanced capabilities and value. Although terms like “IoT” are often used, it’s important to understand the vast capabilities so that you can assist customers in addressing their true business needs. Another way to learn what the market is focused on is to look at some key third parties that are setting standards for networked lighting. One is the Design Lights Consortium (DLC) and their Networked Lighting Control program, which sets the standard for what networked lighting controls should accomplish. A second is the ioXt Alliance, which is helping to establish industry-customized profiles for many kinds of connected devices, including mobile applications, lighting controls

and more.

Oliver: Training and education are key. By understanding networked lighting control really well, installing it and even using it yourself, you can communicate the benefits more easily. Our experience is that once you get an installer trained and knowledgeable, it sells itself.

Mercier: Education leading to an understanding of how the use of new technologies enabled in IoT ecosystems can solve customer challenges is the most important at this point.

IMARK Electrical Now: Finally, what advice would you give to lighting and controls sales reps regarding the long-term sales potential of/opportunities for networked lighting and controls?

Oliver: Invest in your customers; this is a longer sales cycle and ultimately fixtures with controls will generate more revenue. Help build your stable of installers, train them, educate them, get them in the door and they’ll sell the next system for you. Also, be creative—I can’t tell you how many different applications for our product users have identified that I never imagined. Because it’s both software and hardware, you can often change it to fit your needs, so keep an open mind.

Roe: Networked lighting and controls solutions continue to grow for a variety of reasons. Expanded solution capabilities and changing customer needs will continue to create opportunities and ongoing customer touch points. Customer needs will grow beyond traditional energy savings and code compliance, so it’s important to have a deeper understanding of the capabilities of networked lighting and controls to successfully sell these solutions in the future.

Mercier: Upgradable and scalable luminaire products have recently been launched by reputable manufacturers and should become part of a standard offering. Be sure to consider these options if your customer is interested in network and IoT solutions but not ready to make the jump today, as these future-ready luminaires, for which sensors and controllers can be upgraded later, are the new 0-10V dimmable LED driver of 10 years ago. They’ll simplify a customer’s future steps into using data to improve their city/facility/building in an efficient and cost-effective way.