February 2018

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How Smart Lighting Headaches Are Delaying IoT for BAS

The reality is that most lighting control systems are “set and forget”; after initial setup, additional interaction is not required.

Russ SharerRuss Sharer,
Vice President of Global Marketing and Business Development
Fulham Co., Inc.

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The Internet of Things (IoT) offers great promise for building automation. However, in the rush to address total connectivity, real-world economics tend to get in the way. While IoT can solve a number of integration and automation issues, IoT implementation has to overcome market challenges. This is especially true in the lighting industry, which has a mature supply and deployment strategy that has been slow to adapt to new integration solutions such as lighting control, a building block of IoT. In fact, the luminaires installed today without communications or sensors won’t likely be IoT capable for the next decade, the lifetime of the fixture. This delays IoT adoption for lighting at least five to 10 years, which is ironic since building lighting is the perfect skeleton for IoT.

Lighting as the Skeleton for IoT

Light is everywhere. In fact, in parts of rural India, lighting is the first thing families add with electrification. In North America, light emissions have grown an average of six percent each year between 1946 and 2000, exceeding the population growth rate. Lighting is clearly essential to any building.

Artifical Night Sky 

What makes lighting the right skeleton for IoT is the fact it is not only essential, but is installed in known fixed locations at regular spacing intervals. Building lighting connects to a central, stable power source. It’s also more ubiquitous than any other part of the electrical infrastructure, including electrical outlets. When you add sensors and communications (required for IoT) to light fixtures, they can have the intelligence to detect smoke, bad air quality, even the sound of a gunshot, and report back to a central location.

Lighting also can be a driver for BAS adoption since it consumes substantial energy, which means monitoring and conserving the energy used for lighting can save a lot of money. According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, 17 percent of the energy used in commercial buildings goes to lighting. Between 2003 and 2012, lighting as a share of overall electricity consumption dropped from 38 percent to 17 percent, largely because of more efficient lighting such as LEDs.

Energy Use 

Figure 4

Much of the LED deployment in the United States has been driven by rebates from energy companies and cash incentives yielding an immediate (less than 24 month) payback. What’s more, simply swapping out legacy lighting for LEDs yields 80 to 90 percent of the energy savings, so there is no real incentive for adding more savings by including lighting controls in BAS systems.

However, there is inherent value in connected lighting, especially if you are looking to adopt IoT. The ubiquitous nature of lighting makes it the perfect skeleton for IoT. Just as networking companies like Novell and Hewlett Packard started by connecting PCs, printers, and file servers, lighting can be a great starting point for IoT intelligence.

Why Lighting is Holding Back IoT

Unfortunately, having lighting as a ready-made framework for IoT is not enough. There are too many market and business impediments in the way:

  1. The distribution channel – Lighting always has been part of building construction, and light fixtures make their way into installations through distributors and contractors, chosen for lowest cost and ease of installation. If a contractor can come in and wire the lights quickly, without complexity, the job is less expensive and the customer is happy. If a contractor has to meet deadlines and improve profitability on a job, they want to minimize complexity, which includes taking the time to wire lighting controls into the building infrastructure.
  2. Capital expenditures – How lighting costs are included in the construction process is another impediment. Lights are installed as part of the initial construction, so unless the building owner or tenant is thinking about smart lighting as part of building automation from the outset, lighting will be specified as a line item along with the nails and the dry wall. Similarly, tenants tend to choose lighting based on aesthetics and light intensity, but not on manageability.
  3. Rental agreements – The structure of rental agreements often calls for tenants to pay for the energy they use. That means there is no incentive for building owners to pay for an infrastructure to manage energy consumption. In fact, many commercial properties don’t even monitor energy use by office or floor, so it would be impractical to try to reward tenants using lighting upgrades.
  4. Outdoor lighting – Just as landlords have little motivation to install more energy-efficient lighting, there is no incentive to upgrade and monitor outdoor lighting. Many utilities charge municipalities by the light pole rather than for actual energy usage.
  5. Less commercial construction – New construction offers the best hope for IoT-managed lighting, but half of the commercial space in use in North America is at least 60 years old. Since 2000, only 7-8 percent of new commercial capacity has been added per year. Researchers predict that more than half of LED lighting sales through 2025 will be for building retrofits. So even if all new building starting wiring for IoT, it would still take half a century for approximately half of all commercial space to be IoT-ready.

As you can see, there are a number of market barriers preventing IoT deployment through smart lighting. Perhaps the biggest is that retrofitting with LED lighting are a huge energy savings in itself. If you consider that fluorescent lighting consumes 2 percent of the world’s energy, and LED retrofits will reduce the power needed for lighting by as much as 90 percent, most economic incentives can be achieved with conversion to LEDs.

The Real Issues of Lighting Management

Historically, building lighting has been installed by the contractor and when it stops working, you called an electrician. With IoT controls, lighting becomes part of a more sophisticated infrastructure that takes more expertise to maintain. If a control system isn’t working who has responsibility for repairs? If there is a problem with a wireless connection or controller, is that a problem for IT? Most facilities managers and IT professionals don’t have the expertise to include lighting control systems and IoT in their wheelhouse. 

In many cases, a system failure would have to be handled by the manufacturer. Unfortunately, the manufacturer has no direct relationship with the end user, or even the crew sent to repair the system. Some vendors are creating training centers for contractors and installers to address this problem but there is still a gap when it comes to certification and repairs.

The reality is that most lighting control systems are “set and forget”; after initial setup, additional interaction is not required. The lighting control systems either work or they become a problem and are disabled. In fact, research shows that half of all U.S. lighting control systems are disabled after 12 months because of unresolved issues.

Time to Rethink How to Sell Lighting Control

To help IoT become an accepted platform for smart lighting as part of building automation, vendors should consider a new approach to selling and supporting lighting controls.

First, listen to end users and determine how best to incorporate lighting controls into ROI scenarios. For example, lighting controls can offer tremendous energy savings when tied to other systems, such as HVAC. This is a major opportunity for BAS vendors with integrated lighting control, increasing the return with minimal additional investment.  It would be similar to selling email as part of a network system; it’s a great value-added service but harder to sell as a standalone solution. Incorporating lighting controls as part of a security system, fire and safety, environmental controls, or other building automation system makes more economic sense for building managers.

Other ways to think about lighting controls is as part of another solution, such as item tracking. For example, hospitals tend to buy more equipment than they need to increase availability; what if the lighting system could help track the location of all the equipment in the building?

For IoT to become successful for lighting controls, vendors need to improve and simplify both the ROI and the installation. As smart buildings become the goal, it will be easier to make lighting controls part of the overall infrastructure, opening the door for IoT.


About Fulham Co., Inc.

Fulham manufacturers innovative and energy-efficient lighting sub-systems and components for lighting manufacturers worldwide.


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