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Smart Lighting Standards: Help or Hurt For Interoperability?

by Russ Sharer

Solid-state lighting (SSL) is increasing building efficiency and energy savings. More facilities are retrofitting outdated fluorescent lamps and ballasts with LED fixtures and drivers that can cut energy costs in half and, more importantly, give facilities managers new control over lighting systems. LED systems can be programmed in any number of ways, but there is no standardized means of control and automation. If you are mixing and matching lighting vendors, you want to create an integrated system that uses a common language, but as yet there are no established standards for lighting control. 
Let’s consider some of the building management applications for intelligent lighting:

• Smart lighting connects SSL with automated control systems to adjust light levels based on conditions such as the amount of sunlight or room occupancy. Using sensors to power this kind of smart lighting can result in substantial energy savings.

• Facility managers increasingly want to control LED color temperature to provide full-spectrum illumination and support functions to promote occupant health and productivity.

• In situations where older and new LED light sources are intermixed, the newer fixtures tend to be brighter than the older units. Individual unit light intensity must be programmed to match older light sources to provide consistent lighting.

• Specialized applications, such as tunable outdoor lighting, are becoming more popular for applications such as building enhancement and security.
Networking smart lighting fixtures provides control over building illumination, including dimming, color tuning, remote monitoring, task tuning, remote and wireless controls, system alerts, and energy usage reporting. However, the only way these smart lighting applications will work is they have a centralized or distributed control system, and that means integrated communications. That’s where lighting lags far behind other industries; there is still a lack of commonly accepted communications standards.

Everybody Relies on Standards
Accepted open standards have had a dramatic impact on other industries. Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, for example, have become widely adopted because the standards are well-documented and well-understood; vendors can create products guaranteed to interoperate with other products that conform to the same standards. This kind of open standards approach to product design ensures intersystem compatibility and system extensibility.  Could you imagine walking into a local Starbucks and being told the Wi-Fi only works with Samsung mobile phones or Lenovo PCs?

Smart lighting vendors are in a heated race to see whose technology will be adopted first. The more widespread the adoption of one vendor’s platform, the more likely that platform will become a de facto standard. Chances are that the emerging standard will be “open” in that it is readily available to manufacturers and easily licensed. Closed standards tend to fail. You may remember Novell NetWare. Novell had a virtual monopoly with its network operating system business in 1990. Today NetWare is non-existent and has been replaced by open, Internet standards that ensure network interoperability.

Emerging Lighting Standards Fight for Dominance
When assessing lighting retrofits and smart lighting options, building managers have a number of standards to consider:

ZigBee – ZigBee is being promoted as the wireless standard that controls various types of devices such as lighting. ZigBee is being touted as the ideal standard to manage the Internet of Things (IoT) and has been endorsed by the Connected Lighting Alliance.

DALI – The Digital Addressable Lighting Interface (DALI) is gaining momentum as the wired standard for digital lighting controls, including LED lighting.

TALQ – The TALQ Consortium is working to create a management software standard with interfaces to control and monitor outdoor lighting systems.

Even though these standards are becoming more commonplace, there is no guarantee of compliance and interoperability. For example, while the DALI standard has approved compliance testing, some vendors are offering a DALI “super set” of functions that are derivative DALI implementations, i.e. non-standard. The same problem applies to supposedly ZigBee-compatible products. For an example specific to lighting, consider that the 0-10V dimming standard for LEDs does not specify when a luminaire actually turns off; two luminaires receive the same control signal and one may turn off completely while the other only dims to appear off, which makes a huge difference in energy consumption and the longevity of the luminaire.

There also are related applications and standards that are going to have an impact on lighting interoperability:

• Internet of Things (IoT) – IP addresses are being embedded in everything including smart lighting. As IoT applications evolve there will be an increased demand for centralized control to manage automated buildings.

• Wireless standards – The IEEE 802.11ac wireless networking standard is being adopted for applications such as in-home systems management, and Wi-Fi technology is being used to access building alarms, adjust climate controls, and activate lights.

• Power of Ethernet (PoE) – PoE is becoming more prevalent in new construction and areas where electrical access is limited. Being able to power lighting systems using Ethernet is ideal for some lighting applications, such as retail lighting that must be frequently moved, and Ethernet connectivity provides built-in access for lighting management.

As smart lighting continues to evolve, interoperability is going to become increasingly important, which is why you need to shop for lighting systems compatible with recognized industry standards. Expect to see more demand for interoperability testing to verify standards-compliance and interoperability, and standards groups are going to offer new certification procedures and seals of approval. In the meantime, facilities managers need to be sure that the lighting systems they choose for new installations and retrofits use standards that support legacy units as well as next-generation lighting systems.

Russ Sharer is Vice President of Global Marketing and Business Development for Fulham Co., Inc. Sharer is a business leader with more than 25 years of experience in B2B marketing and sales, including successful software and network equipment start-ups. Fulham is a manufacturer of innovative and energy-efficient lighting sub-systems and components for lighting manufacturers worldwide.