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May 2017
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EMAIL INTERVIEWWayne Lye and Ken Sinclair

Wayne Lye
Triangle Research Int'l



Lighting Energy Controller

It is mounted overhead at the centre of a zone where it will read the zone lighting level, detect vacancy and occupancy and regulate dimmable luminaires' output between 0% and 100%, as conditioned by users.

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SinclairHow important is it that we all start prioritizing our efforts to reduce energy wastage in lighting usage?

Lye:  The EIA (US Energy Information Administration) projects that the world marketed energy usage will increase by almost 50% in less than 30 years, between 2012 and 2040. At the same time, the International Energy Agency (IEA) says that the lighting accounts for about 20% of global electricity consumption. It goes on to say that the latest IEA scenarios show the total electricity savings potential in building lighting by 2030 could be equivalent to all the electricity consumed in Africa in 2013.

Since the 70s, satellite pictures have confirmed that there has been significant migration of people into cities where industrialization and commercialization have been steadily growing. This is not expected to change as the world population growth continues at an alarming rate even as the growth rate has flattened out somewhat for now. All this means that the demand for lighting energy will continue to be a big piece of that total energy usage pie in spite of all the new lighting technologies that have evolved since World War 2. Note though that the world population is now 3 times what it is was in 1950.

That is a high-level view of electricity usage for lighting across the world and across all user segments. The EIA also states that Lighting is the largest single end use of electricity in commercial buildings. As such, many state and city jurisdictions in the first world have instituted building energy codes based on standards such as ASHRAE 90.1. These codes are continually being revised to cover not only new commercial and industrial building constructions, but they are also becoming more stringent to eliminate exceptions, and are more inclusive for fixture replacements. And while the focus on lighting improvements had been in light emission source technology for decades, the codes have extended themselves into the design of buildings to optimize the use of natural daylight, and to the mandatory implementation of controls to eliminate all forms of lighting energy wastage.

From an opportunity point of view, the expectations of the new building codes mentioned above are in no way unrealistic nor excessive. While many commercial buildings have transitioned from low-efficacy luminaires to modern high-efficacy adjustable brightness LED lightings; many still have not. And among those who have, few have taken it to the level of the latest code requirements. Lamps continue to operate at maximum output regardless of the daylight shining through the windows or the skylights; they continue to operate in the absence of occupants often because someone forgot to turn them off, or more likely, no one owned the responsibility for their operation in a common space; they also stay fully lit 24/7 in emergency escapes and stairwells and parkades for security and safety reasons even though the same can be achieved with say, 20% brightness level unless or until human presence is detected.

So, yes, it is very important for us all as responsible corporate citizens to seek ways to reduce lighting energy wastage because possibly more than any other use of electricity, the opportunities here are aplenty!

SinclairWhat are the biggest hindrances to businesses in their effort to reduce lighting energy usage?

Lye:  Businesses do what they do to make money. New lighting fixtures and new controls cost money. The replacement of lighting fixtures and the installation of the new controls cost money. This upfront cost of the new technology is clearly a key concern and often, still not at a price point that many businesses are prepared to incur, based on the investment returns in electricity and equipment maintenance/replacement cost savings ... even when other substantial strategic values, such as the company's environment-conscious image are considered.

As discouraging as the capital outlay involved in the implementation of lighting system upgrades, another related major hindrance is often the complexity of the project itself, and the time and resources needed to sort through it. Short of installing the piece-meal, limited-capability, off-the-shelf 'smart' wall switches available from well-known brands for the simplest jobs, a more sophisticated medium to large facility project means engaging a lighting consultant and vendor, having time to study the needs and time to engineer the implementation, and then organizing the implementation itself. With many of the sophisticated lighting systems in the market today, this is likely to involve not only much of the time of the customer's own facility team but also their IT specialists. It is this complexity that often 'breaks the camel's back.' Between it and the original equipment cost, the total cost of implementation and maintenance of most new lighting systems is hard to justify, from an economics point of view. Of course, for new building constructions, these costs are mandated by the building codes, so, the only question that remains is finding the most competitive solution available in the market. For the responsible corporate citizen, replacing old lighting systems with new energy efficient ones remains a tough sell.

Yet another important factor in the lighting improvement decision is the ownership of the decision itself.  Owners who rent out commercial properties have little incentive to upgrade their lighting system in the common areas since the operating and maintenance costs are often passed on to commercial rental tenants. Tenants can often upgrade the lighting in their own rented space but have to limit their investment payback computation to their lease tenure. Needless to say, cost and complexity continue to be main hindrances. Any lowering of either of them can only help to make a case for more adoption of the new energy-efficient solutions.

Optergy SinclairHow is Triangle Research Int'l planning to make a difference?

Lye:  Triangle Research International has been in the business of automation for more than 20 years. We have been designing and manufacturing Programmable Logic Controllers (PLCs) for industrial and building automation since the 90s. Our PLCs are used by automation experts in many industries to engineer and automate complicated processes with are often, much more demanding than the controls needed for most commercial lighting. Triangle Research was also one of the first companies to offer integrated Internet connectivity into PLCs. With this specialist knowledge and experience in automation controllers, we have developed and thoroughly tested a new All-in-One Lighting Energy Controller, also known as ALEC.

ALEC is aimed very much at the centre of the cost and complexity issues discussed above.  ALEC is basically one single integrated control module that will automate the lighting in the space of approximately 180 sq ft which it calls a zone. It is mounted overhead at the centre of a zone where it will read the zone lighting level, detect vacancy and occupancy and regulate dimmable luminaires' output between 0% and 100%, as conditioned by users. There is little complexity in scaling up the number of zones as the same module is installed the same way over and over in every zone that a facility owner defines. This means that a facility owner can economically install just one zone because that is all he needs, or as a pilot before he expands the implementation to more zones in a timeline that suits him/her. There is no all or nothing decision to be made!

ALEC doesn't end there though. Every ALEC can be daisy-chained connected into a network with a Gateway into the Internet or Intranet. This connection not only makes ALECs accessible remotely but enables them to track real-time, even after a power failure, in order for them to run automation schedules by the hour and the day, as well as to log actual energy consumed by the zone luminaires over time.

The fact that the cost of each ALEC Zone controller with a user wall switch is sub $250 and that the concept for installation is amazingly simple means that lighting in a simple space can be automated almost as soon as an electrician is available to do the job; a larger space may need a few more days and a whole commercial office floor might take a couple of weeks. In summary, all this means less hardware, less manpower, less specialized engineering and ultimately, just a lot less cost and worries for the decision maker. 

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