Are there smart lighting factors we shouldn't ignore? (MAGAZINE)

Oct. 21, 2016
Strategies Unlimited analyst Shonika Vohra examines the smart lighting market for areas of concern and recommends focusing on the appropriate application of the technology.

Strategies Unlimited analyst SHONIKA VOHRA examines the smart lighting market for areas of concern and recommends focusing on the appropriate application of the technology.

"Smart lighting" is all the buzz right now, and most of my past writings have revolved around this topic. One of the reasons is that there is always something new in this emerging market. In this article, I would like to talk about some uncomfortable situations that could be associated with or caused by smart lighting. We always talk about the benefits of smart lighting, but this new business has been fairly disruptive to the traditional world of lighting and that also deserves attention. As a note of caution, some of my perspective in this column may be based on particular situations and may not apply to all of the situations in which smart lighting may be utilized.

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Understand the benefits beyond energy

There are many benefits attributed to smart lighting these days. One of the biggest claims has been that it will further amplify your energy savings if you couple lighting controls with LED lighting. So why is it that the probability of end users adding smart lighting controls and networking is fairly low when they have already installed an LED lighting system? The truth is that the energy-saving benefit of smart lighting is only realized when it is coupled with LED lighting in the first stage of installation as a replacement for incumbent technologies such as high-intensity discharge lamps (HIDs). So, if an end user recently changed over to LED lighting in an indoor or outdoor project, the likelihood of them later adding smart controls to their lighting system decreases. Analyzing the energy savings from the smart lighting system in a vacuum doesn't always make the best business case for installing these products.

In terms of penetration, smart lighting has had high traction in outdoor street-light applications. However, cities usually tell us that energy savings is not always the biggest draw to install smart lighting, since the energy bills for street lights are still based on fixed tariff rates rather than the actual energy consumption. It is the ancillary benefits such as lowering maintenance costs, simplifying asset management, and future energy savings that fuel their decisions to install connected/smart LED street light systems. But there are applications in which smart lighting systems have been able to claim actual energy savings such as with high bays when the incumbent technology has been HID based.

Gathering all the data

Another disruption smart lighting may cause could be in the field of evaluation, measurement, and verification (EMV). Programs such as these have been used to justify the rebates and subsidies given by governments, utilities, and cities to support effective energy-saving technologies with taxpayer funds. To calculate the energy savings, the analyst or engineer has to note the features of the new and incumbent technologies and then, depending on the project, model the building or facility that went through the upgrade. With the integration of smart lighting into the overall building, all the lighting systems, HVAC units, and other building equipment could be monitored directly and evaluated. Instead of a one-time evaluation of the newly installed system, the continuous flow of data can make real-time system changes possible to ensure that the facility is being run in the most efficient way. Integration of smart lighting with the overall building is still a few years away because there are still interoperability issues that the industry has to deal with. But many smart lighting systems now will be able to easily detect the light source, its energy consumption, and projected lifetime, possibly rendering energy- and building-simulation models obsolete.

The outlook

Some traditional lighting companies do not have the in-house talent or resources to compete in the fast-evolving world of smart lighting. And some of them don't think that connected lighting or smart lighting will catch on. So they might get a rude awakening in a couple of years when they have to play catch-up with other competitors who have already built a strong smart lighting business.

Smart lighting is here to stay, and it is something that cannot be ignored. When we consider lighting programs such DOE's Solid-State Lighting Consortium, DesignLights Consortium, and Energy Star, we can see that smart lighting is very much part of our future lighting mandates and so needs to be applied judiciously.

SHONIKA VOHRAis the analyst for the LED, lighting, and smart lighting market at Strategies Unlimited (