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Building Lighting Is About More Than Just Light

The classic icon for a great idea is a light bulb. But the symbol is gaining new meaning as we enter the era of smart buildings. Because, as it turns out, lighting is the heart of a smart building. 

There’s no denying the importance of lighting as one of history’s most pivotal innovations, and the next stage in lighting evolution will have the most significant impact yet. Lighting systems hold the key to creating smart commercial buildings by leveraging new technology, including AI and sensors alongside today’s light fixtures. Smart lighting provides more than efficient lighting, it also functions as the neural network that allows all of a building’s devices and systems to communicate with each other, leading to significantly reduced overhead and energy costs, and increased productivity. 

Lights are typically fixed, unlike other building features such as sockets and appliances, have standardized spacing, and are powered by stable sources. These factors make them reliable producers of crucial data regarding the operation of a building. Due to its uniformity throughout commercial structures, intelligent lighting offers full control and actionable data over a building’s entire lighting infrastructure, which can be used to increase safety and efficiency. Sensor-equipped lights can capture movements and attributes across a broad spectrum and assist maintenance by pinpointing the exact location of smoke, equipment failures, and other emergencies. Using lighting as the backbone of a smart building ecosystem allows for multiple systems to work together, rather than having various independent building systems, allowing them to share data to streamline building functionality. 

There is no shortage of IoT technology that can make a building smart, however, there is little agreement on what an intelligent building is. The European Union has begun an initiative to define smart buildings for the sake of creating a smart building certification program and a standard consensus definition. 

For this article, let’s define smart buildings according to what they all have in common and what makes them intelligent: system-to-system communication. This communication is, of course, the source of building automation. A smart building’s core operational systems – including heat, lighting, ventilation, security and others – can communicate with one another without human interaction, improving operational efficiency and reducing costs. That’s a smart building. 

And incidentally—or not—it all starts with the lighting.  

According to the Energy Information Agency of the U.S. Department of Energy, upgrading to LED lighting can bring energy savings averaging 50% and adding digital controls to intelligently dim and brighten lights based on environmental stimuli in your building can save an additional 10 to 20%. Even more savings are possible through real-time monitoring of operations and the diagnostic health of the lighting infrastructure to streamline maintenance, repairs, and operational costs. Better asset management of outdoor lighting can further drive efficiencies, leading to savings as high as 50% in some cases.

LED lights have significant advantages over traditional incandescent lights, such as their longer lifespan (60,000 hours), lower energy consumption (90% more power-efficient), higher safety, and reduced maintenance costs. Additionally, LED lights can be fitted with sensors and connected to a centralized control panel. This connectivity unleashes a new world of possibilities to integrate with other systems, devices and connectivity protocols like Wi-Fi, Zigbee, and Bluetooth. 

And that’s just the beginning because once you make your LED lighting system smart, you now have the foundation to make your entire building smart and extend the benefits of building intelligence beyond lighting. 

Smart lighting provides the basis of an intelligent building network. It can keep users informed of exactly how systems are operating, as well as additional changes needed to improve cost- and energy-efficiency further. 

For example, LED-based sensors in a utility room could prevent a disastrous fire by reporting when a boiler is about to overheat. Likewise, a sensor-equipped lighting strip in a lobby can provide critical data on how to most efficiently program your air conditioning according to lobby foot traffic and outdoor air temperature. When it comes time to shut the building down for the night, movement sensors can operate independently to activate or deactivate air circulation systems to avoid wasting energy on creating comfortable environments or smart scene settings when nobody is there to enjoy them. And through the sensor network contained in your smart lighting, your ventilation system can communicate with your fire control system, knowing when and where to increase or decrease flow to reduce fire risk. 

Smart lighting is essentially a smart building’s circulatory system: allowing building managers to capitalize on more energy-efficient lighting, and create a communication network for their building’s operational systems, leading to significantly enhanced operational efficiency.

 The next step, of course, is to connect smart buildings to create smart cities, at which point the scale of energy savings and operational optimization becomes almost unfathomable. We are still making our way to the smart city revolution, so for now, let’s focus on lighting, because it’s already changing the way buildings operate. When it comes to lighting, it is about so much more than just light.

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