The definition of a smart gadget varies, but basically it’s a device that is connected and can do something on its own. A good, simple example in the lighting industry is a smart luminaire that is connected to a local server or the cloud and can turn itself on or off based on the time of day. The only difference between this example and a room controlled by a room occupancy sensor is it’s connection. There are two primary reasons smart devices are seeing mass adoption: the cost of sensors and connectivity technology has dropped dramatically and the benefits finally outweigh the costs.
Primary Use Cases
The primary use cases for smart lighting right now include energy efficiency, wayfinding, asset tracking, occupancy comfort, and space optimization.
The first and most common use case for smart lighting is for energy efficiency through occupancy control and daylight harvesting. Occupancy control means automatically turning the lights down or off when an area is unoccupied. This is typically a combination of standard operating schedules with local overrides from occupancy sensors. Daylight harvesting control means dimming or turning off lights near exterior windows based on the amount of light coming in from outside. This traditionally was accomplished with a single daylight sensor in the room with limited ability to make changes after initial installation. Additional benefits from smart lighting over standard room controls include the ability to change which lights are on a certain schedule or how far they dim remotely, instant energy analysis with tracking, and more granular control when each luminaire is controlled.
Wayfinding is essentially Google Maps for the indoors. Traditionally, companies have had to install a network of ‘beacons’ that act just like a GPS in a building. Since lighting is in the ceilings and everywhere in a building, those same beacons can be integrated into the lighting luminaires, reducing the product and installation cost for deploying wayfinding systems in airports, malls, sports arenas, and other large venues.
Asset tracking is another use case that’s moving from dumb to smart as we move from barcode stickers on key assets to sensors installed instead on trucks, large industrial equipment, and in some cases, employees. Smart lighting fills a similar need as wayfinding by reducing the product and deployment costs for asset tracking. In this case, lighting can reduce the data transmission distance, eliminate the need for redundant gateways (think wifi routers), and in some cases, can also provide power to eliminate the need to replace batteries.
At Retrolux, we think occupancy comfort will continue to grow in popularity as more research proves a comfortable occupant buys more merchandise in retail locations, increases productivity in the office, and maintains their lease longer in rental apartments. The two main ways smart lighting can impact occupant comfort are individual light level controls and light color temperature controls. With smart lighting allowing each individual light fixture to be controlled, a worker will be able to lower the light levels at their desk while their neighbor raises their light level. One of those same two employees might also want a warmer, more orange light color while the other wants a crisp white color for a task that requires attention to detail. Early studies are already showing a measurable and significant correlation between occupant comfort and productivity, leading to a more profitable business.
Finally, space optimization is seeing early adoption by real estate management companies. Basically, space optimization means using smart lighting systems to analyze where employees spend their time in a building, using that information to optimize where people sit, and ensuring all the space is being used. An office building in Denmark was able to use this data to reduce the required space for one of their tenants by 40%, making their lease less expensive and opening up more space for additional tenants!
Smart lighting gadgets are really just devices that are connected and do things. They may have sensors and a computer embedded in them to help them be smarter as well. The initial use cases have already been proven, and in many cases, are already starting to scale across large building portfolios. There are several more use cases starting to emerge, and some of the best probably haven’t even been invented yet. The only thing that’s certain is lighting will serve an incredibly important role as we make our buildings smart since it has the real estate, power, and serves as not only the nervous system, but also the eyes of the building.
Leif Elgethun is the CEO and Co-Founder of the cutting-edge startup, Retrolux. Leif describes himself as a “serial entrepreneur” with over 10 years of experience creating and growing clean energy companies: Bluebird Solar and Light, Site Based Energy, Intermountain Energy Partners, and E-Newables. As part of his passion for clean energy, he is also involved with nonprofits as President and Co-Founder of the Idaho Clean Energy Association and Past-Chair of the Idaho Chapter of the USGBC.