Control Concerns: Could Wireless Fit Your Facility?

11/01/2014 | By Janelle Penny

A look at two real-world lighting control projects

Wireless Lighting Controls help solve lighting challenges in multiple space types, from open plan to private offices.

Options for lighting control devices are nearly as endless as the wide spectrum of energy management strategies they enable, but narrowing down the field can be tough. Wired and wireless controls each have distinct advantages. Tricky installation environments can further complicate the problem – some spaces make wireless communication tough, while others make wiring prohibitively expensive.

These recent installations are but two examples of difficult problems solved by customized lighting solutions. Alex Do, senior product manager of indoor wireless solutions for Acuity Controls, examines the role wireless controls played in each.

Difficult Locations and Late-Stage Changes
One project, the corporate headquarters of Bob Evans Farms, required daylighting responsiveness and granular lighting control to aid its pursuit of LEED certification. This presented a mix of challenges. Some areas were a good fit for centralized control, while others needed high levels of functionality or special solutions for wiring issues.

“Some of the private offices had to have individual dimming controls and occupancy sensors, and in some cases they also had glass walls and doors,” explains Do. “That makes it difficult to mount and install controls in certain places. They decided to use wireless products, which meant they could have room-level controls that allowed dimming and met LEED requirements with an easy installation.”

Roughly 240 controls were placed in over 100 offices. The technology also solved another problem that popped up during some last-minute design changes.

“During construction, if you have a design change where someone wants to add a dimming control, the electrical engineer will have to route those wires back to the electrical panel. That could mean routing several hundred feet,” says Do. “In areas with design changes, they ended up using wireless switches and controllers and not worrying about how the wires would be routed in the building.”

Custom Control Needs
The Oakley Lindsay Center, a Quincy, IL-based convention hall, upgraded its lighting from HID to LED and needed a control suite to match. Easy operation and zoning capability were definite musts, as the center’s capacity and event needs could change every day. The team opted for fixture-integrated wireless controls to gain the benefits of integrating devices into a mesh network.

The system stores scheduling, monitors onboard current, and reports lamp outages. Its mesh network eases the creation of zone-based scheduling and software-based control, an important consideration for dynamic spaces where unused areas can be dimmed or darkened to save electricity, Do says.

“The advantage of having wireless capability in an application like this is that the lights can be grouped regardless of how the electrical wiring was originally designed,” adds Do. “As partitions are moved, lights can be grouped to fit changing needs.”

Two Installation Considerations
The most frequent misconception about wireless technology arises from concern about whether the wireless signals can interfere with similar systems, such as Wi-Fi, Do says. Fortunately, that’s not the case.

“There are numerous real-world installations that show adding wireless control to light fixtures does not interfere with existing systems,” explains Do. “The other big concern is that someone could hack into the wireless system. Many wireless products have security measures built in, so ask your vendor about their security mechanism.”

“There’s this idea of ‘I want to have dimming and advanced control, but I’ve got to be willing to put up with complexity to deal with it,’” Do adds. “Wireless makes advanced lighting controls practical in challenging spaces.”

Janelle Penny is senior editor of BUILDINGS.

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