Technological Advances Increase the Importance of Lighting Control

Feb. 19, 2007
New technologies in whole-building lighting-control systems can help provide greater overall energy savings and improved control

By Scott Jordan

With growing significance being placed on designing buildings for increased energy efficiency and reduced costs, lighting control has become increasingly important for commercial building owners and facilities managers.

New technologies in whole-building lighting-control systems can help provide greater overall energy savings and improved control and reliability - even offering the ability to access the system via a common Web browser for easy schedule changes and control of lighting zones. Input devices like touchscreens, keypads, and occupancy sensors have also come a long way and are designed to make lighting control more attractive while providing seamless input functionality for occupants.

Commercial Lighting-Control Overview
In a typical commercial building, lighting is the single-largest consumer of electric power, often exceeding 30 percent of the building’s total energy cost. Simply adding the ability to control lighting during periods when the building is not occupied can reduce lighting costs by as much as 50 percent. It can also help meet new legislative and program requirements that include and encourage lighting control.

Lighting-control systems are comprised of two major components: 1) output devices that work behind the scenes to control the lights by switching them on or off or dimming them up or down, and 2) input devices like switches or sensors for localized control.

A good example of innovation with regard to switching systems is the lighting panelboard. Today’s lighting-control system has transformed this gray metal box into the hub of an intelligent system that provides a connection between the lighting system, lighting control input devices, and the facility’s power-management systems. Such panels now contain controllers that receive signals originating from the external control devices or from internal time schedulers and initiate commands to remotely operated circuit breakers, relays, and dimming modules. In a Web-based system, information can then be accessed via any computer connected to the Internet.

Keypads and touchscreens have grown in style and functionality, and offer a stylish alternative to traditional control devices. Keypads can feature LED indicators that provide illumination and status feedback or allow for electronic labeling of switches according to building owners’ preferences. Touchscreens, which are available in black-and-white and color versions, provide a virtually limitless number of programming options to create pre-set lighting scenes that can activate automatically. These devices can also help avoid the “wall acne” that is often associated with wall-mounted dimmers, projector-screen switches, volume controls, and wall plates.

Energy Savings
These new-generation lighting-control systems really shine when it comes to energy savings. Occupancy-based sensors are now available that communicate directly with the system and provide the facility manager with the ability to tweak settings from his or her computer and avoid disturbing occupants. Smart light-level sensors are available to measure ambient light levels and automatically switch breakers or relays on and off to maintain a constant light level.

Thus, these technologies represent far more than just manual on/off control. Benefits to building owners and facilities managers extend beyond just energy savings and can provide a more comfortable work environment, less stress, and greater productivity.

Scott Jordan is product marketing manager at Salisbury, NC-based Square D/Schneider Electric (

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