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Lighting Links to the Smart Grid

March 23, 2010

With the smart grid well on its way, discover how lighting systems play their part in this new technology

It’s rare when something as powerful as the Internet comes along. The World Wide Web has changed business, information-exchange methods, and the way we socialize.

But what’s more powerful than the Internet? According to John Chambers, chairman and CEO of Cisco, the smart grid could be. A term used to describe the modernization of the existing electric power system, smart grid technology will allow distributed energy sources (wind, solar, etc.) to supplement – and eventually replace – traditional sources of energy. It guarantees energy supply because it monitors, protects, and improves the operation of the equipment connected to it. "Today’s power grid is outdated and can’t support our ever-growing requirements for peak demand and power quality," says Tom Nasti, product manager of smart grid solutions at Lutron.

Smart Meters
Via smart meters, the smart grid will offer real-time data about energy usage, energy costs, and load-shed requests. If the mechanical systems in your building are equipped with smart meters, your utility can automatically perform a load-profile analysis to reveal potential operational problems (problems that, in the past, may have been found only through commissioning). Data from smart meters can help you identify things like extra chillers running unnecessarily in your facility.

A 2008 Electric Power Research Institute study indicates that, by 2030, these smart meters could save 2.2 to 8.8 billion kWh annually.

As Ian Rowbottom, principal engineer for smart grid products at Lutron, points out, "It’s important to have a system where an end-user can easily program customized protocols and a hierarchy for curtailing energy consumption within their respective spaces when a request or demand calls for it." The smart grid allows for that.

How Lighting Fits In
Lighting is a key part of the smart grid since it’s typically a top energy user in a commercial building. "One example is automated demand response – a building receives requests from a power company or energy aggregator and curtails energy usage in return for payments," says Nasti. "In this case, lighting can be integrated to the utility interface to automatically curtail load in reply to demand-response events." Because the lighting components are part of a bigger system, load curtailment can be achieved without someone giving the system direction or input. Your facility won’t function as something that continues to mechanically pull energy from the power grid, but more as a self-regulating piece of the smart grid. As Harry Sim, CEO of Cypress Envirosystems, points out, "The ‘smart grid’ needs ‘smart buildings’ to talk with."

Lighting & Curtailment
When compared to HVAC systems, for example, lighting represents a significant opportunity for demand-response curtailment. "Twenty years ago, HVAC was a commercial building’s top energy consumer, but improvements in device efficiencies and controls over the past 10 to 15 years have changed this," says Nasti. "Not only does lighting represent a larger load to pursue for demand response and energy efficiency, but you can curtail more lighting load while maintaining comfort and productivity than you can with HVAC." While lights can be dimmed by up to 40 percent in a few minutes without anyone in your building noticing, temperature shifts of just a degree or two can lead to complaints for the facilities management department. Curtailing load by controlling lighting is a non-invasive way to comply.

"An intelligent lighting control system can be programmed to communicate directly with the utility or energy aggregator so a facility manager can configure desired settings and go back to his or her other responsibilities – you set it and forget it," says Nasti. "These settings may include demand response or real-time pricing logic that determines how to respond to various energy events. Because the system is automated, there’s no running around flipping switches or adjusting setpoints."

Some lighting products that are suited for the smart grid contain load-shedding software that lessens lighting load automatically or with the touch of a button.

Leah B. Garris ([email protected]) is managing editor at Buildings magazine.

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