Advanced Lighting Control – Is it Worth It?

09/01/2009 | By Clint Conley

Consider costs and your building occupants as you think about installing a lighting-control system

The right system will decrease the overall consumption of energy by operating lights for shorter durations and at lower levels. COURTESY OF GLOBAL SOLAR ENERGY

There is seemingly no end to the options available for lighting systems in today’s building designs. Options range from basic to complex, and can provide many different levels of control. While the more advanced systems are meant to simplify processes and create cost and energy savings, they may actually complicate operation and create cost and energy-use increases if not set up and programmed correctly.

Before installing a system, it’s necessary to evaluate building design and occupancy needs to determine the level of sophistication that meets the user’s needs (as well as the construction budget). Of course, the more complex the system, the more expensive it is to install, and typically more complicated to program. So, how do you know if it’s worth it?

The two main factors to consider are the energy savings that a system can offer and the comfort level it affords the occupants.

LEED Credits for Lighting

If you’re obtaining LEED certification for a project, the following points can be achieved for using advanced lighting controls under LEED:

  • Sustainable Sites Credit No. 8: Light Pollution Reduction. Exterior lighting can be controlled by the lighting-control system to meet the requirements of night usage times.
  • Energy & Atmosphere Prerequisite No. 2: Minimum Energy Performance. Automated lighting control can be used to significantly reduce the amount of energy a building uses by turning off lights when not required, as well as operating lights at lower light levels.
  • Energy & Atmosphere Credit No. 5: Measurement and Verification. Intelligent lighting panels often have built-in metering options available.
  • Indoor Environmental Quality Credit No. 6.1: Controllability of Systems: Lighting. Requires that a certain number of occupants have individual controls for their spaces. An intelligent lighting-control system helps make it possible (and often reduces the cost) to add large numbers of control zones for a space.
Cost Considerations
Advanced lighting-control systems are usually more expensive; however, some systems can be cost competitive because of the lower installation cost of low-voltage control wiring. The front-end installation cost needs to be balanced with the long-term cost savings due to energy-use reductions and extension of lamp life. If a system is programmed and operated correctly, significant cost savings are realized.

If the system is never set up correctly, it could actually increase operational costs due to lights being on when not required. For a system to operate correctly, it will have to be programmed with input from users.

Occupancy Considerations
In certain applications, the initial cost of advanced lighting controls will be justified by the use of the space, and will be quickly paid for by energy savings. In other applications, a lighting-control system will be overly complicated for building users, and there will be very little return on investment.

The type of occupant must be considered to determine what’s appropriate. For example, college students and nursing home residents will have greatly different preferences and aptitudes for use.

Advanced lighting controls offer added flexibility to alter the environment. One room can serve various functions based on flexible lighting. For instance, in a conference room, lighting presets can be programmed with a low light level for projector use, a moderate level for presentations, and a high level for working meetings. On a larger scale, building owners can program lights in public areas to create different atmospheres.

The right system will decrease the overall consumption of energy by operating lights for shorter durations and at lower levels. In addition, it will offer occupants the flexibility to alter and enhance the visual appearance of a space for particular uses while simplifying the operation; however, first cost, operational costs, user aptitude, maintenance, and programming requirements must all be considered in the selection of a lighting-control system. The balance of all of these factors will lead to the best long-term value for the building owner.

Clint Conley is vice president at Smith Seckman Reid. He leads the Education, Science & Technology (EST) team in the Denver office.

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