Choosing a less expensive centralized lighting controls system over an embedded networked, lighting system was often a straightforward economic decision. The simple cost model won out (even though the total installed costs for embedded controls were usually lower).
Today, the math is not so simple. Prices have come down on embedded controls, making them a lot more palatable. And beyond hard costs, networked controls are delivering more business value. They’re more versatile, and can be outfitted with multiple sensors to support a variety of applications. Capabilities range from simple programmed dimming, to mobile app configuration and adjustment, to intelligent networkable devices that automatically respond to information provided by other devices on a network.
And in terms of overall cost and value, intelligent, embedded, networked controls offer clear advantages over traditional centralized dimming systems:
- They unlock a key energy saving feature unique to LEDs: energy efficient dimming without the complex wiring challenges typically associated with traditional centralized dimming systems. New dimmable LEDs with embedded networked controls enable multiple control strategies such as manual dimming control, daylight responsive dimming, and vacancy detection. These can be combined to deliver an efficient, code-compliant solution that allows the lighting system to deliver just the right amount of light exactly when and where it’s needed. Further, control strategies can be changed easily as needs and space configurations change.
- There is strength in numbers. Multiple sensors in a space can “see” more accurately and effectively than a single sensor. In addition, light levels in specific areas, such as above individual work stations, can automatically adjust to accommodate localized occupancy and daylight conditions.
- They use well-established protocols, but can handle the newer, more exciting technologies. 0-10V control has seen a dramatic resurgence, given the rapid adoption of LED luminaires and the pre-existing knowledge base of 0-10V from the fluorescent era. DMX has also become more popular as manufacturers begin to offer color tuning as an option. Today, state-of-the-art systems employ new languages that can speak color and intensity through both wired and wireless mediums. These employ wireless technologies that we use in our everyday lives, like Bluetooth®, that can be leveraged to unlock a plethora of capabilities.
Of course, some things remain constant: equipment is only as good as the software used to configure and manage it. When software is divorced form hardware, capability and functionality can suffer increase while complexity, maintenance and defects flourish. As lighting control systems become more advanced, systems are being designed as a platform with integrated hardware and software, just as the sensor integrates into the luminaire.
Another part of the equation to consider is that having a luminaire and controls package from a single manufacturer can help lower the total installation cost and simplify service and support by providing a single point of contact.
Using the new math, embedded, networked controls as part of an integrated compatible package offer the greatest overall value. And with an eye on the future, integrated luminaires and controls will be able to add sensors that can become an intelligent node at the heart of smart buildings, collecting information to feed into HVAC and security systems, enabling indoor positioning and unlocking the full potential of the IoT.