Advancing the art of lighting control for a greener future

Published:  07 November, 2008

John Gunton
Presence sensing has to be revolutionised to the point where it detects individual workers at individual work stations — innovation is absolutely essential — John Gunton.

As the world seeks practical, market-based solutions to turn the tide against environmental degradation, illumination management comes under scrutiny from John Gunton.

A complete revolution in illumination management — most particularly presence sensing — is essential for environmentally and commercially viable lighting systems of the future. The lighting industry needs to rethink three key elements of illumination management.

• The very nature of presence sensing.
• The granularity and physical location of presence and illumination-level sensors.
• Tenant empowerment to control their lighting environment at an individual work-area level.

The dominant issue of the sustainability of building systems has the global lighting industry searching for ‘green’ lighting solutions. Aside from the obvious environmental implications, lighting energy efficiency has very real rent-return and tenant qualification implications for building developers.

Quality tenants are demanding high levels of building energy efficiency, and lighting energy is a major component of this. The most energy-efficient light is the one that is turned off. Lighting energy management is therefore the solution. The problem is that few are doing it well.

Optimal lighting-energy management comes down to providing a high-resolution of control — so-called ‘granular’ lighting control systems — with equally granular and innovative presence-sensing solutions. This provides the most positive indication as to whether, and at what level, lighting is required in the particular area.

Sensing technology must quickly evolve well beyond today’s conventional approaches to meet immediate and future lighting energy management needs. Presence sensing has to be revolutionised to the point where it detects individual workers at individual work stations. Innovation is absolutely essential and Dynalite is actively exploring some important options.

Workstation mounting of such advanced sensors, rather than conventional ceiling-mount, is the way of the future. These sensors could easily be linked back to the lighting-control system via the work-station IT infrastructure. Every work-station today has a PC, and each is connected via a LAN. Why not leverage this in-situ IT infrastructure to relay illumination management information specific to the workstation back to the lighting control system?

Two contemporary lighting-design strategies currently hamstring illumination management: the knee-jerk design approach to use conventional technology ceiling-mounted presence and illumination level sensors; and a focus on achieving pre fit-out compliance with illumination standards and specifications in the open-plan configuration, often without consultation with prospective tenants.

Unfortunately, the norm today is to deploy a fairly basic level of ceiling-mounted presence and illumination-level sensors, and these are typically calibrated to pre-tenancy open-plan conditions. As a result, subsequent fit-out can significantly impact calibration and performance of the illumination management systems.

Equally problematic is the obsession with mounting sensors on the ceiling. Once in place, modifying or adding to such ceiling-based illumination and occupancy-level sensing is prohibitively costly and disruptive to the tenant. The ceiling void should house the lighting and lighting controllers, but that is where it should stop. All interaction with people in the occupied areas must be done more intimately, ideally integrated into the furnishings and infrastructure within the individual work spaces. It is the most logical approach.

Factoring in the tenant’s needs — now and in the future — is the vital issue. Developers and lighting designers need to think outside the square and design lighting systems that actually empower individual tenants to control their lighting environment and reduce their energy burn.

The lighting-design challenge today is to embrace such tenant empowerment and ultimately design in a legacy that will permit future generations of tenants to take true control of the lighting and do the real work in saving energy.

John Gunton is the managing director of lighting automation and control group Dynalite.

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