Who does what to whom?
In recent years we’ve seen some major advances in the sophistication and functionality of lighting control systems, enabling specifiers and building operators to achieve much higher levels of control. At the same time, however, it’s important not to lose sight of how they will be used on a day-to-day basis and by whom.
As has been proven on many occasions, if something is very difficult to use, people will be less inclined to use it. So while it’s essential that we take effective control of lighting if we are to reduce carbon emissions, this will only be achieved to its full potential if we make the systems as user-friendly as possible.
This situation can present specifiers with a dilemma. On the one hand, giving building occupants too much control can mitigate the benefits of having lighting controls in the first place. For instance, on/off switches and dimmers could be said to provide all the control necessary (if you ignore the monitoring and testing role of control systems). Unfortunately, the reality is that people won’t think to switch lights off or down as more daylight enters a space – and they frequently forget to turn them off when they leave the space.
On the other hand, if people aren’t given any control they are more likely to complain. And if the centralised control system is too complex for the organisation’s in-house technicians to use, they are less likely to make changes to the system that will improve energy efficiency
All of which means that while some level of automated control is clearly highly desirable; it’s up to the control manufacturers and those that specify the products to get the balance right. In particular, they need to ensure that there is some element of buffering between the highly specialised elements that do the clever stuff and the interface that the building occupants use.
In this respect it’s also important to recognise that there are essentially two types of building occupants, with very different requirements of the lighting management system. There are the people in the FM or works department who can be expected to have a bit more technical knowledge – and who can be trained to carry out basic control configurations. And then there are the staff who rely on the lighting on a daily basis and expect to have some control of their own lit environment.
In addition, it’s worth remembering the impact that highly complex controls can have on the installation and commissioning phases of a project.
Fortunately the sophistication that gives modern lighting management systems a high level of functionality at the ‘business end‘ of the lighting also includes the in-built intelligence to address these other issues.
For example, control within a space may include dimming of lighting in relation to natural daylight and on/off switching using presence detectors to determine when lighting is required in a particular area.
In many cases, the maximum benefits will be achieved by combining different types of sensor to suit different areas of the building, different times of day or variable occupancy patterns. For example, the lighting may be linked to a timer that switches the lighting on at 8am and off again at 7pm. During the time the lighting is on, it may also be controlled via a photocell that measures light levels and dims the lighting when there is plenty of natural daylight. Or the lighting may only be switched on when there is someone in the space, and then controlled by a photocell to maintain the required lighting levels with the minimum use of electricity.
In most cases this arrangement will include an element of manual override so that individuals can make limited adjustments to the lighting of their own workstations. Again, this needs to be easy for them to do. For instance, if the lighting is controlled through a DALI (Digital Addressable Lighting Interface) system, it can be linked to a software gateway to the office network.
The gateway enables the DALI language to communicate with the TCP/IP protocol used by office networks and the internet, so that users can adjust their lighting via their PC. Furthermore, this arrangement enables the building operators to easily access the settings of the lighting system using the building’s existing network, or even from remote locations via the internet.
This latter feature is proving particularly useful for organisations with widespread estates, where the FM or works department is housed in a central location. Rather than having to visit each building to monitor the condition of the lighting or to make changes, this can now be done remotely via a central computer so that considerably less time is wasted on travel.
As a bonus, the same circuit can be used for mains lighting ballasts and emergency lighting. So a wide range of tests can be carried out on the emergency lighting with no extra control circuitry.
Just as importantly, this arrangement provides much more flexibility to reconfigure the lighting in workspaces as layouts change, a growing challenge for building operators. Flexible working practices such as hot desking and touch down areas, combined with the growth of collaborative working where workgroups change on a regular basis, mean that most workspaces are now considerably more fluid. Being able to re-zone lighting through the software eliminates the frequent re-wiring, thus saving on both money and disruption.
The in-built flexibility of the lighting system also makes the whole process of installation and commissioning more efficient and cost-effective.
In the right mood
Away from the office space there are areas in many buildings where it is desirable to be able to alter the lighting at the touch of a button to create different ambiences or ‘scenes’. Again, this requires a sophisticated level of control at the business end, combined with ease of use at the human interface.
A case in point is the lighting control system that has been installed at the London showroom of furniture company Kinnarps. The showroom has been designed to reflect a real business solution, creating a working demonstration of an exciting workplace.
TridonicAtco’s x-touch BOX has been installed in the conference, display and bar areas to provide four lighting options; a cheerful, welcoming illumination for general use, a brighter ambience for the conference area, more muted tones for the bar area and more intimate lighting for less formal events. Linked to DALI lighting control systems, the system enables scenes to be easily called up as required, with the capability of up to 16 lighting scenes any number of times.
Lighting designer for the project, Luxo’s Steve Willis, commented: “The beauty of TridonicAtco’s x-touch BOX is that we are not limited to the number of luminaires we can operate with the system and we have the option of being able to add luminaires at a later date, which we certainly will be doing”.
The important thing is that the technology that underlies these developments, whether it’s an automated lighting management system or a scene setting controller, brings a great deal of flexibility. Armed with this, specifiers are now able to effectively address a wide range of needs within a single system. The key is to understand how different people are affected by lighting controls, and to address the needs of each.