Make it easy

Technology provides the answer to many of the challenges facing lighting control and monitoring, but it’s important to ensure that it’s easy to use. Paul Mans of CP Automated Lighting and Jon Theis of Intelligent Solutions (IS Ltd) explains how new software technologies combined with new ballasts are making life easier for all concerned.
Back when the only way we had of controlling our lighting was to switch it on or off manually, everything was simple. In fact, it’s even simpler than lighting a candle and blowing it out – one of the very earliest forms of lighting control.

Now that lighting control is more sophisticated and packed with functionality, there’s a danger that everything will also get more complex. But it doesn’t need to be that way, the very technologies that give us higher levels of control can also ensure we keep things simple at the interface between the user and the lighting.

Of course, the big problem with that very simple user interface – the manual switch – is that it relies on people to remember to operate it. If they forget to turn the lighting off when it’s not needed, for instance, energy is wasted. Even with manual dimming switches, someone has to remember to turn the lighting down as the day progresses and more sunlight enters the space.

So there’s no suggestion that sophisticated lighting controls aren’t needed. On the contrary, they are essential if we are to optimise energy consumption without compromising on the quality and safety of lighting. What we have to do is make the best use of the technologies available to make the implementation and day-to-day use of lighting controls as simple as possible. Simpler for the designer, simpler for the installer, simpler for the commissioning engineer and, very definitely, simpler for the end user.

Increasingly, in order to achieve this nirvana of lighting control, it’s necessary to combine very clever controls and control gear with software that has the capacity to translate all of the information into a very simple front end.

When you consider the changes we’ve experienced in just the last few years, it’s little wonder we have more complexity to handle at the sharp end of the lighting installation. For example, most new buildings can now only achieve the required Building carbon dioxide Emission Rate (BER) under the Building Regulations through the use of automatic lighting controls as part of a package of energy efficiency measures. Very often, this will necessitate different control strategies for different types of space.

In an office space that is fully occupied from 9am to 5pm, it makes sense to use a simple timer to control the lighting. However, most modern offices have variable occupancy so there is a strong case for including supplementary controls to any timed or manual on/off switching to control the space zone by zone. This might be in the form of occupancy sensors, photocells or a combination of both.

In addition, outside normal working hours there is usually still a need for some lighting for cleaning and security patrols. This may be controlled on a different timer channel, with only some of the lighting being used and providing lower but adequate illuminance levels. So the more flexibility that is built into the system the more the use of the lighting can be optimised.

On the subject of optimisation, it’s just as important to ensure that lamps are changed at a time that ensures their optimum performance. It’s not uncommon for discharge lighting such as fluorescent to be allowed to go way beyond the point at which it’s able to deliver the required illuminance.

As a result, in parallel with enhanced control of the lighting on a day-to-day basis, we’ve seen the introduction of addressable systems that can monitor each individual lamp, keep track of the hours burned and alert the building operator when the lamps should be changed. Such systems can also issue an alert when a lamp fails, so it can be replaced quickly.

Monitoring emergency lighting

In addition to the greater demands on the control of the general lighting, the regulations relating to the testing of emergency lighting have, quite rightly, also become more demanding. Without the aid of some automatic testing, this would consume many hours of person power, so there is a tendency to install automatic systems for testing emergency lighting in many buildings.

Surprisingly, these two aspects of lighting control have remained separate for quite some time; despite both being essentially distributed control and monitoring systems feeding information back to a central point.

To some extent this is because the technology has not been available to combine these functions in a single system. That’s all changed, however, with the introduction of the latest Microsoft .NET framework, which has made it possible for specialist software developers to introduce much greater functionality to their systems.

For example, software that makes use of .NET can be used in conjunction with DALI ballasts to provide a system that can not only control and monitor general lighting but can also incorporate an emergency lighting test system, using ballasts specially designed for the purpose. Such a system needs to be fully compliant with IEC 62034, of course, and provide a fully automated test facility with comprehensive reporting of test results, including failures of emergency modules. In this way, it fulfils the criteria laid out at the beginning of this article, namely the use of complex technology to simplify things for the people involved.

It’s only in the last few months that such a system has become available and it offers some significant advantages.

Not least of these is the ability to monitor lighting, reconfigure systems without hard wiring and manage the emergency lighting through the same system. This means the user only has to become familiar with one software interface – though it’s still important that this interface is easy and intuitive to use.

Furthermore, it greatly simplifies the design and installation of the emergency lighting system. No additional components are needed in the luminaire when the ballast that’s used as the emergency inverter is fully compatible with DALI networks, such as the TridonicAtco EM PRO ballast.

This is another important aspect of the new technologies that are coming into play. Ideally, they should do more than just provide the control and monitoring functions that have been discussed, they should also contribute to the longevity and lower cost of ownership of the system.

For example, an intelligent inverter capable of using DALI protocol is a major step forward in the integration of control and monitoring functions of standard and emergency lighting. But that in-built intelligence can also enable the performance of the emergency lighting to be fine-tuned to give maximum performance, extended lamp life and greater peace of mind.

Such fine-tuning functions might include permanent cathode heating to ensure warm start on switching to emergency mode, with a pre-heat to boost start to full emergency light output while optimising lamp life.

These are just a couple of examples of how we can ensure that technology becomes an ally in the fight for greater efficiencies rather than an obstacle that has to be overcome to achieve our objectives. The technologies themselves clearly have to become more complex as we demand more of them, but that’s no excuse for making the system difficult to use. Simply paying more attention to the interface and keeping that simple, despite the underlying complexity, can make all the difference to how well the system will be used through its life.

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