New connected lighting technologies bring opportunities and challenges

by sadia_badhon | May 21, 2020 11:58 am

By Prem Kumar, LC, MIES

All images courtesy Hubbell Lighting[1]
All images courtesy Hubbell Lighting

In both residential and commercial lighting, the source of illumination is mostly light-emitting diode (LED) technology. Electrical and general contractors and consulting engineers for new construction and renovation are now faced with opportunities and challenges, as a luminaire may no longer be a ‘mere’ light fixture.

Smart lighting brings to a project a variety of sensors and technologies that enable a lighting infrastructure to become home minders, part of an entertainment assembly, security and fire-safety devices, and tools that help a business save money by optimizing luminaire use and providing information to HVAC and other building systems.

The smart lighting infrastructure creates a backbone, which enables the integration of many traditional, standalone building systems. The integration of smart lighting fixtures, sensing technologies, and communication capabilities has created the new paradigm of connected lighting systems (CLS). Through wired, wireless, and hybrid networks, the various lighting fixtures and sensors integrated into today’s facilities exchange information with each other and building management systems (BMS) to create seemingly endless possibilities.

Advantages and benefits

A wireless outdoor lighting control application for managing individual and groups of devices, scenarios, and schedules.[2]
A wireless outdoor lighting control application for managing individual and groups of devices, scenarios, and schedules.

CLS comprises a class of lighting infrastructure that goes beyond illuminating spaces. By incorporating network interfaces, sensors, and distributed intelligence, CLS becomes a data collection platform, enabling a range of new capabilities as well as greater energy savings in buildings. Readers may recognize this concept by its other name—the Internet of Things (IoT). IoT merely expresses the idea that previously standalone smart devices are now internet-enabled and live on wired or wireless networks. Telephones, smart thermostats, kitchen appliances, security and home entertainment systems, door locks, televisions, and automobiles are now connected to the internet and are a part of the IoT. When devices are present on the internet or a private intranet (a network with limited or zero connectivity to the internet), the opportunity for them to interact and share information is enabled. CLS is becoming an important building block of the IoT.

This connectivity enables building professionals to add technologies and assets providing additional control of the living environment and gather data to help a BMS make better decisions. According to the research organization Gartner[3], IoT devices (or endpoints) associated with building automation and physical security will grow to 1.53 billion devices in 2020—up 20 per cent from 2019, and 44 per cent from 2018. One can only assume this rate of growth will continue to accelerate.

Another benefit of a CLS is doing away with running line voltage power to light fixtures by harnessing Power over Ethernet (PoE). Reduced voltage and low amperage operating power—providing 13 to 100 W (depending on the specific PoE installation)—is supplied over the Ethernet cable itself, simplifying installation and conduit needs.


By evaluating data collected from the CLS, a BMS can control HVAC and lighting loads and increase occupant comfort levels. Sensors can determine if a room is currently occupied, and the BMS can turn the lights on to a preset level and have the HVAC bring the room temperature to a set degree. Conversely, the lights can be dimmed or turned off and the temperature setting changed to reduce HVAC use when the space is vacant. Sensors have the ability to monitor the amount of daylight coming into a space and adjust the lighting on a per-fixture basis to decrease the output of luminaires near the window while adjusting the ones away from openings to maintain an even illumination level across the room.

Through sensor use and proper configuration, CLS can be a critical part of an automation system that can reduce energy costs. According to a 2017 report from[4], energy use can be reduced by an average of 29 per cent in commercial buildings when properly applied.

Occupant comfort and well-being

There is evidence light plays an important role in the well-being of occupants. It affects mood and alertness. The circadian rhythm (i.e. the human body clock controlling biological processes) is in tune with daylight changes—the colour and intensity of daylight is constantly changing through the day and is a reminder for the body clock to follow these time-of-day cues. The colour is measured in units called the correlated colour temperature (CCT), with a warmer ‘white,’ such as sunrise or sunset, having a CCT value of 2700 to 3200 K. Daylight is considered a ‘cool’ CCT with a value of 5200 to 6000 K. Studies show cooler CCTs in the middle of the day keeps people alert and aware, improving productivity. Warmer CCTs at night create a sense of comfort and relaxation to help people unwind and get ready to sleep.

A Power over Ethernet (PoE) standard lighting control software.[5]
A Power over Ethernet (PoE) standard lighting control software.

With proper design and programming, CLS allows one to mimic these changes in the indoor environment. CLS, using LED fixtures with colour tuning, can be set up and programmed to replicate these changes. This could improve the overall mood and well-being of the occupants. Occupants can also be empowered with all or partial control of the intensity and colour of the lighting to make changes that best suit their needs.

A properly set up smart home or building automation system (BAS) can make those changes on-demand by the push of a button. The Michael Best Law Firm in Washington, D.C., developed their facility with such abilities and believes it contributes to employee productivity and mood[6].


Temperature and lighting control based on occupancy is just the tip of the iceberg. Current technologies as well as new ones just coming to the market provide for far more sophisticated control options.

Lighting has a big part to play in the evolution of smart buildings. Luminaires are ubiquitous in the built environment. Their standard overhead location and positioning to illuminate the entire space also means they are an ideal integration point for a variety of technologies and applications.

CLS can be customized to the specific needs of a project. For example, when CLS senses occupancy after business hours, it can trigger the security system and localize the intrusion by turning on the lights in that part of the building. If employees use key FOBs for access, a BMS could use entry and exit data to trigger the occupied setting for that person’s office when they enter the building, and reset it to energy-savings level as well as ensure the lights are turned off when occupancy sensors indicate they have left for the day.

Components of a connected lighting system include sensors, switches, room controllers, and application software.[7]
Components of a connected lighting system include sensors, switches, room controllers, and application software.

Other sensor types can monitor the building for air quality status, gas leaks, and other potential problems. This might be useful for manufacturing facilities where hazardous materials are in use.

CLS can also assist with energy monitoring, providing utilization data for the whole or parts of the building. Sensors can monitor space utilization and assist in determining the usage frequency of certain features to help the space management planning process. For example, if the data for a recreation room shows low utilization, it could be considered as an ideal candidate for adaptive reuse.

CLS fixtures can also be employed for asset monitoring, enabling the tracking of high-value equipment. If something gets removed from its normal location or from the building itself, the security system can be notified and misuse, loss, or theft prevented or resolved. If security cameras are a part of the CLS, images tracking the asset’s movement through the building—and presumably who is moving it—are possible.

In more niche uses, indoor positioning of people could be monitored through CLS by tracking their smartphone movement in the facility. The BMS could learn people’s movement patterns and accordingly adjust the building’s lighting and HVAC settings. The following is a possible scenario: when Susan enters the building, she normally heads to her office except on Saturday mornings when she goes to the warehouse first. The BMS system could avoid turning the lights on and resetting the HVAC settings for Susan’s office on Saturday mornings and instead adjust the warehouse space for her anticipated arrival there.

In the case of retail environments, an indoor positioning system (IPS) installed in CLS can pick up the customer’s shopping list and guide them to what they are looking for, or even nudge them toward certain brands or products by sending instant discount coupons to their phones based on the amount of time they are spending in a particular department.

IPS technology may sound far-fetched, but it is in use today. Typical usage involves a venue-specific app customers choose to install on their cell phones. Sensors embedded in the facility’s luminaires can track the phone’s Bluetooth beacon, and visible light communication (VLC) technology embedded in the fixture can place information in the light itself to be decoded by the phone’s camera. These all work together to provide accurate positioning information[8] to the venue’s app on the users’ cell phones.

Advanced energy software package user interface.[9]
Advanced energy software package user interface.

Wired or wireless?

Wired systems are going to have a reliability edge, but it is not always practical to run new infrastructure in an existing building. This constraint is not a barrier for CLS. Many wireless options are available, and indeed, most CLS/smart home systems for residential use are not wired. Even smart replacement bulbs have built-in wireless technology, making integration with an existing environment trivial.

Hybrid systems are also an option, whereby devices that can be hard-wired to the network are done so, and where hardwiring is not feasible or cost-effective, equipment is added wirelessly—this is similar to having hard-wired desktop computers and wireless laptop computers on a network.

Central or distributed control?

Another decision point in the design of a CLS is the control type. Control can be centralized where one component is the ‘intelligence’ in the system, collecting all the data, and sending out all the control instructions. The risk with this option is everything shuts down if the centralized control system experiences a failure.

With distributed control, the ‘intelligence’ is pushed down fully or partially to the individual devices making up the system. These devices are now capable of interpreting the input signal sent to them and acting on it directly. Control is programmed right into the receiving devices, eliminating the possibility of a central point of failure for the system.


Lighting control and management software.[10]
Lighting control and management software.

As with any technology, CLS has its challenges. It is critical for the specifier to truly understand a customer’s needs and level of sophistication to ensure the proper applications are installed to maximize the benefit and fit the end-user. Also, CLS technology comes with a price—there needs to be a tangible return on investment (ROI) for its deployment to make sense. This ROI can come in the form of reduced energy use, more effective security of valuable assets, and an enhanced, productive work environment.

In August 2019, the University of Oregon published a whitepaper, “The Impact of Lighting and Views in the Workplace of the Future[11],” which concludes daylighted spaces with controlled lighting and views can improve occupant well-being, workplace productivity, and satisfaction by positively influencing various physiological and psychological processes. The researchers concluded, “lighting and views also impact property value and employee recruitment and retention.”

The first word in CLS is ‘connected’—this likely means integration with IT systems. It is best to engage the IT department from the start to make sure the CLS is set up in a way they can support and protect, as well as ensure all components can be integrated. Attention needs to be paid to cybersecurity, as no one wants CLS to be the ‘weak link’ allowing hackers to get into the network.

Further, there will be privacy concerns. People want to know who is getting tracked, and why. When data is being collected on individuals, who is the owner of that data? What rights do the monitored people have? Many of these questions are going to be tested and explored in the coming years.

Future of CLS

CLS are a new-enough technology that its benefits are still being evaluated and debated. The United States Department of Energy has set up a Connected Lighting Test Bed[12] to evaluate CLS. While the definitive benefits are still being researched, the components and their potential are well understood.

Clearly, smart buildings are here to stay, and the acceptance of smart home technology is setting the end-users’ expectations. IoT is already upon us, and CLS are going to have an increasingly significant role to play in future building construction and renovation projects.

[13]Prem Kumar is the technical marketing manager in the lighting division of Hubbell Canada. He is actively involved with the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) and is the past-president of the Toronto section. Kumar can be reached via e-mail at[14].

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