NLCs set to revolutionize commercial and industrial lighting efficiency

Christina Halfpenny
December 20, 2018
By Christina Halfpenny
NLCs set to revolutionize commercial and industrial lighting efficiency
Image courtesy DLC
December 20, 2018 - Networked lighting controls (NLCs) offer an opportunity for the commercial and industrial illumination sector to save 75 tWh of electricity over five years, according to the findings of a recent DesignLights Consortium (DLC) study. These savings would be 17 times greater than the annual energy output of the Hoover Dam.

NLCs link lighting fixtures, sensors and switches, either wirelessly or with control wiring. They have proven capable of boosting lighting efficiency by 47% compared to the savings from LEDs alone.

What’s more, NLCs offer a path to developing ‘smart buildings’ by communicating with other systems and responding to changing conditions, including how space in a building is used.

For the DLC, the study’s findings will inform development of updated specifications and a revised Qualified Products List (QPL) to help guide building managers and lighting professionals alike in the selection of new technologies.

In the U.S., by way of example, the Department of Energy (DoE) projects LEDs will comprise 86% of all lighting products by 2035 and reduce energy costs by nearly US$52 billion, the majority of which will come from the commercial and industrial sector, where uptake of LEDs is currently only at 13%.

Making the most of this opportunity, however, will depend on the simultaneous installation NLCs and LEDs. Failing to install both technologies at the same time risks losing out on significant extra savings and on smart building opportunities.

Marrying LEDs and NLCs at the time of installation allows fixtures to be ordered with their controls pre-installed, eliminating compatibility issues. Utility incentives are also more likely to be available for projects making the initial jump from less-efficient lighting to controllable LEDs.

The current uptake of NLCs is limited, due to such factors as poor understanding of the technology and inadequate training. As such, strengthening both the NLC value proposition and customer acceptance will be a major focus for the DLC in the year ahead. The Version 4.0 revision of its NLC specification will indicate the capabilities systems must provide to be qualified through the DLC, which lists qualified products for energy services companies, lighting designers, manufacturers and utilities across North America.

Specifically, updates will focus on (a) cybersecurity, to increase trust and credibility of NLC systems for information technology (IT) departments and acceptance by customers and efficiency programs, (b) energy monitoring, to deliver more information on system and building performance, and (c) interoperability, to outline a plan for qualifying systems that will facilitate building system integration, which would provide great value to facility managers.

Addressing cybersecurity is particularly important today. Research shows 70% of all Internet of Things (IoT) devices are vulnerable to cyberattacks and the average annual cost of a data breach is nearly US$4 million.

As for energy monitoring, improvements will enhance savings data to support higher efficiency incentives, in turn making NLC systems more attractive to potential customers. This will require a multi-year effort.

So too will a plan to improve interoperability between NLCs and other smart building systems. Research in 2019 will inform a comprehensive plan for vetting in 2020.

Meanwhile, energy managers sourcing LEDs and NLCs should research local incentives that may be available from utilities and energy efficiency programs. Tapping into these incentives will typically recuce the upfront cost of a lighting project by 20% to 25%.

The relatively recent advent of LEDs set off a wave of improved efficiency in commercial and industrial lighting. Adding NLCs to the mix is a win-win that will drive the results to a higher level and boost the smart building movement.



Christina Halfpenny is executive director of the DLC.

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