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Why Smart Lighting for Commercial Buildings Is Important

One of the greatest inventions of the 19th century is the light bulb. It transformed peoples’ lifestyles and made it easier for the 24-hour economy to take hold in many parts of the world. The light bulb is still evolving in the 21st century. Smart lighting is the new kid on the block. It is spearheading the next phase of the lightbulb’s evolution. If I asked whether you know about smart lighting, you would probably say yes. But, how much do you know about it?

What is Smart Lighting?

Smart lighting is an autonomous or semi-autonomous system that controls the lights in a building. There are smart lighting versions that connect to the Internet, while others operate offline. Intelligent lighting systems can follow schedules, make decisions, and allow remote access.

Smart lighting systems combine many elements, including light sources, sensors, luminaries, control units, connectivity solutions, and analytics platforms. Implementing smart lighting systems involves combining these parts into solutions that you can monitor, control, and automate using a centralized system.

There are several phases when you are implementing a smart lighting system. The first stage is to create a group of lights to light up various parts of the building. The next phase is creating a system that connects the luminaries and lights. Thirdly, you build an energy management platform. The final part is to add connectivity to the system to enable connectivity and other intelligent features.

office smart lighting system

Types of Smart Lighting Systems

There are three central smart lighting systems on the market grouped by how you use and control them. These systems include:

  • Smart bulbs
  • Smart lights connected with a hub
  • Lights with integrated motion sensors


Smart Light Bulbs

They are low-cost bulbs connected to a Wi-Fi network. You can install them on ordinary bulb holders and connect them to a local Wi-Fi network to control them remotely. Smart light bulbs have one or more of the following features:

  • You can control them remotely
  • Offer adjustable brightness
  • You can schedule its power-on time
  • Mood-based colors
  • IFTTT (if this then that) compatibility
  • You can use smart voice assistants to control the lights


Smart Lights Connected with a Hub

These are smart lighting systems that you connect to the Internet through a central hub. The hub is the main connectivity point of these systems, and you cannot use them without it.

Motion Sensing Lights

They use infrared motion sensors to turn lights on. Motion sensing lights are popular in commercial applications because they enable you to turn the lights on only when there is a movement in the area.

Communication Channels

Most intelligent lighting systems use wireless communications to get commands from you. There are three standard communication technologies for smart lighting systems, including:

  1. Wi-Fi: You can control smart lights connected to a Wi-Fi router from anywhere as long as you have an Internet connection. The downside is that they cannot work if the Internet connection is down.
  2. Bluetooth: Bluetooth has a much shorter range than Wi-Fi. However, you can create a mesh network with the lights and control them using your smartphone. Bluetooth smart lights need a Bluetooth hub that connects them to the Internet.
  3. ZigBee/Z-Wave: ZigBee is similar to Bluetooth. You can use the connection to create a mesh network. With a Z-Wave network, you need a hub to connect the devices.

How can Smart Lighting be Used for Different Types of Commercial Buildings

You have three options to install smart lighting in a commercial building. We shall discuss the benefits and drawbacks of each method below.

Option 1: Power Over Ethernet (PoE)

You can use PoE to deliver information and power over ethernet cables. Devices that work with Ethernet cables are usually VoIP phones, Wi-Fi routers, and security cameras. If you want to integrate smart lighting into your ethernet network, you need PoE-compatible lights. The lights are costlier than ordinary LEDs. However, you can retrofit regular bulbs to work with a PoE system.

Benefits of PoE

  • The system saves money in the long run because of increased efficiency. You can also control and power the intelligent lights using the same connection.
  • Easy and safe to install
  • You require fewer cables to set up the system.
  • There’s no need for mechanical cable protection because the system uses low voltage.
  • You can address a specific device on the network to control it manually or automatically.


Drawbacks of PoE

  • Unsupported devices need retrofitting to work.
  • Because PoE supports a maximum of 100 watts, you need multiple cables to operate energy-intensive devices like HV/AC systems.
  • You would need ethernet switches and injectors which increase the upfront cost.


Option 2: Smart Low-Voltage DC Power Distribution

In this system, you retrofit a building with a low-voltage (under 60 volts) power system. It is an efficient system because it uses DC power.

The typical electrical system of buildings supplies alternating current. However, many smart lighting devices need a direct current to work. If you use the devices with an AC system, you must retrofit them with an inverter to turn the AC into DC and reduce the voltage. Inverters waste energy in the form of heat.

Pros of Low-Voltage DC Power

  • It is easy and safe to install the system
  • You can use natively non-smart devices with the system
  • Some DC power delivery systems can communicate with building automation systems
  • The switches and sensors are wireless. You don’t need an electrician to install them.
  • The system supports more than 100 watts. However, you would need to protect high wattage wires
  • You can daisy-chain devices without negative consequences


Option 3: Smart High-Voltage AC Power Distribution

Since most buildings have existing AC power distribution, you do not have to build another one. AC power distribution is, therefore, the least expensive method. If you want to install a smart lighting system quickly without installing additional cables, AC power distribution is your best choice.

You could replace your existing bulbs with smart bulbs. If your lights are in ceiling fixtures connected to switches, you can change the switches with dimmers and smart switches.

How can Smart Lighting Improve Efficiency?

One of the crucial benefits of smart lighting systems is energy savings. A whopping 12% of global electricity consumption is used for lighting. However, smart lighting can reduce energy consumption by up to 80%.

Installing smart lighting generates minimal disruption but yields a substantial decrease in energy consumption over time.

Smart lighting enables organizations to monitor their energy consumption and customize their lighting using advanced sensors. You can use simple on/off sensors to control when the lights turn on. However, you can install sensors to optimize the lighting system’s performance. For instance, you can use light detection sensors to measure the sunlight available in the building. These sensors can control the intensity of the light bulbs to minimize energy wastage.

Internet-connected smart lighting systems can send and receive data from a central system. The system enables you to optimize the performance of smart lighting devices based on predicted lighting needs and historical data.

One of the key features that make smart lighting systems efficient is LED bulbs. Most conventional lights use incandescent and fluorescent bulbs, which use a lot of energy. Compared to the older technologies, LEDs need about 75% of the energy required by conventional bulbs. Moreover, LED bulbs can last 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs.

lights in an office

Pros and Cons of Smart Lighting

Despite being relatively new, smart lighting technology has great potential. The ability to automate and customize smart lighting systems are driving their growth. The following are the benefits of smart lighting.

Pros

  1. Convenience

Smart lighting is effortless because you can control the lights from anywhere. Moreover, the learning curve for using apps and other software to control the lights is short. You can even automate the system or enable voice commands for it. You can also check the status of the lights remotely and save the time it would take you to move around the building.

  1. Energy Savings

Smart lighting can save a lot of energy by using sensors to turn lights on and off. You can also use light sensors to control dimmers to reduce energy wastage. Smart lighting is inherently efficient because most systems use LEDs instead of incandescent lights.

  1. Automation

You can customize the behavior of a smart lighting system to eliminate manual interventions. For instance, you can set a lighting system to dim or shut off office lights after office hours. When a motion sensor is triggered, it overrides the settings and turns the lights on in that location.

  1. Customize your settings

You can define parameters that control an intelligent lighting system’s color intensity, temperature, and distribution.

Cons

  1. Initial cost

The cost of smart LEDs is usually higher than incandescent bulbs and some fluorescent bulbs. Moreover, smart lighting systems require hubs, converters, and bridges, increasing the installation cost.

  1. The need for connectivity

Most smart lighting systems require an Internet connection to work correctly. If the link is unavailable, you cannot control the system remotely.

  1. Poor setup diminishes the user experience

If professionals do not install your system, it might be cumbersome to operate, leading to dissatisfaction.

Conclusion

The adoption of smart lighting in commercial buildings is on the rise. The cost of devices to use for these systems is no longer prohibitive. Furthermore, companies are embracing the need for sustainable practices.

If you want to learn more about smart cities, smart buildings, PropTech, and sustainability, feel free to take a look at our other articles

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