Lighting Controls: Moving Beyond the Relay Cabinet
How Wireless Technologies in Lighting Controls Can Save Money on Your Next Building Project
May 10, 2018 by Curtis Craig
If you have ever flicked a switch to turn on the lights at any institutional building, office tower, or school, chances are pretty good that you have used a low voltage, relay-based, lighting control system. For decades, relay-based systems offered the most sophisticated form of lighting control, allowing building owners and operators a way to centralize the control platform and interface with time clocks, BMS systems, photocells, occupancy sensors, or simple keyed switches.
Manufacturers are now integrating technology such as Bluetooth, WiFi, and the Internet of Things (IoT) into lighting control systems. The result is increasingly sophisticated lighting controls, offering features such as energy code compliance, adjustability, scalability, dimming, daylight harvesting, energy metering, demand response, and receptacle control.
As the name suggests, wireless lighting controls use wireless signals to communicate between devices. This is in stark contrast to a typical low-voltage wiring system, which requires intricate wiring, bulky relay cabinets, conduit, wire, and labor to install and maintain. Time and money can be saved on construction projects by eliminating the need for all of this wiring.
Wireless lighting control systems offer simplified installation over legacy relay systems. Wireless modules are often available as factory options for light fixtures. Automatic, networked programming makes commissioning a breeze. The additional cost of the wireless module in the devices or fixture is offset by the labor savings on installation, possibly resulting in net savings. Value to the owner or tenant is also realized during changes to furniture layouts or renovations to a space, as lighting controls may be simply re-programmed using a smartphone or laptop. This could be a selling point for lease agreements..
A common misconception is that wireless devices require batteries for power. While some devices may use batteries, these represent the minority. Manufacturers recognize that most building owners, operators, and tenants detest changing batteries. Therefore, the majority of devices are powered either by line voltage (such as 120V), Power-over-Ethernet (PoE), or utilize a novel feature, such as the piezoelectric effect.
The wireless lighting control network is very resilient and robust due to mesh configurations. Devices communicate with nearby devices, which in turn communicate with nearby devices, etc, relaying information over long distances and around materials such as concrete that interfere with radio waves. The lighting system may be made more resilient by interfacing with the existing data cabling system to provide coverage via strategically placed network controllers. Firewalls can be used to provide security, and gateways to interface with the BMS system. Smart phone integration makes it easy for maintenance personnel to modify programming. Receptacles with integrated wireless modules simplify compliance with new building codes using one unified system.
Wireless technologies have matured and reached mainstream acceptance in markets such as headphones, laptops, tablets, hands-free calling, security, and even home thermostats. Enterprise data systems are exploring wireless office concepts, powered by PoE routers. We are rapidly reaching a point in our homes and businesses where spotty WiFi reception, dropped Bluetooth calls, and sub-1080P video streaming are a thing of the past. By integrating wireless technology into lighting controls, building owners can save money on a sophisticated, secure, and flexible product that adds value to their asset over its lifetime.