November 1, 2021
If you're interested in implementing smart technology into your commercial building or office space, switching out your light fixtures is a good way to dip your toe into this world. There are many practical benefits to smart lighting systems that will make them a staple in buildings of the future. It’s also easier and less expensive than you might think to switch from traditional LED light fixtures to a smart lighting system, and optimize your building's energy consumption.
In this article, we’re going to talk about three different methods of implementing smart lighting in your commercial building. We’ll also compare them to help you decide which solution suits your needs best.
Let’s start with describing what exactly you’d be implementing so we’re on the same page.
A simple way to describe smart lighting is that smart lighting allows your LED lights to be controlled remotely. Here’s how it works: before power is distributed to an LED fixture in a smart lighting system, the connected software communicates with the fixture to let it know what it should be doing and when. This software is controlled by an app, a smart home assistant, or with a wireless switch, so you can control or automate your lights remotely.
Power over Ethernet, or PoE, is one method that allows both data and power to be delivered to an LED lighting system, enabling smart lighting. According to Fortune Business Insights, the global PoE LED lighting market size is projected to reach 544.8 million units by 2026, so it’s becoming an increasingly popular method. It’s worth noting that the type of power distributed by PoE is low voltage DC power, similarly to option 2.
One alternative to PoE is what we call an Intelligent Low Voltage DC Power Distribution system. The main difference between PoE and this solution is that PoE uses ethernet cables and switches, whereas an intelligent DC power distribution system uses standard low voltage cables to transmit power, and typically a wireless mesh network to transmit data.
Both Option 1 and 2 conserve energy due to automation capabilities. They also both conserve energy because they distribute low voltage direct current (DC) power. Distributing DC power in lieu of AC power (the standard in buildings) conserves about 20% of your building’s power intrinsically. This is because DC power distribution reduces the number of inefficient conversions that devices need to make from AC to DC power. You can read more about this in our article called: “Was the 100,000 Hour LED Light Bulb False Advertising?”
An intelligent AC power distribution system is the third option for implementing smart lighting. Similarly to option 2, power is distributed through protected AC cables, meaning that ethernet cables and switches aren’t required, and data is distributed wirelessly. Additionally, with this option no converter needs to be installed at the power source, so it is the cheapest and most simple option, making it the most popular. However, this option wastes the most power because it doesn’t distribute DC power. The only way this smart lighting system conserves energy is through its automation capabilities.
These are all valid options to put together not only a smart lighting system, but a smart building system. The differences between these options will be further discussed throughout this article.
PoE can simply be explained as exactly what it sounds like: it’s a method of delivering both power and data/information over ethernet cables. These cables are also known as category cables or CAT series cables, i.e. CAT5 or CAT6 cables. Common devices that use PoE are VoIP telephones, Wi-Fi routers, and security cameras. It’s worthwhile to note that not all devices are compatible with PoE. Devices like LED lights need to be either PoE LED lights specifically (which are more expensive than generic LED lights), or generic LED lighting fixtures must be retrofitted to be compatible with a PoE system. This is part of what makes PoE the most expensive of the 3 options.
If you’d like a more detailed explanation about PoE, we’ve done an entire blog post about it. Check it out here: What is Power over Ethernet (PoE), Anyways?
There are many benefits to PoE, and we’ll briefly cover a few of them here:
The main disadvantage of PoE is the cost to implement it. This is why it’s more expensive:
As you can see, PoE is an energy efficient solution with many benefits, but cost can be a limitation for many people that consider a PoE system. The other two options do not require the expensive implementation costs of PoE, such as ethernet cables, switches, and PoE-ready devices, so it’s important to discuss their benefits and disadvantages as well.
As mentioned previously, option 2 involves retrofitting a low voltage (under 60 volts) power distribution system to enable smart lighting. Both PoE and option 2 conserve energy because of their automation capabilities, and because they distribute low voltage DC power.
But how does DC power intrinsically conserve energy?
In short, standard building electrical systems supply alternating current (AC) power, but 80% of our devices need direct current (DC) power. Every device that needs DC power comes equipped with an integrated converter that converts the AC power they get into the DC power they need. However, every time a conversion is made, energy is wasted in the form of heat. DC power distribution systems convert energy by distributing DC power to devices that require it, so that all unnecessary conversions are eliminated. For this reason, implementing a DC power distribution system can save a commercial building up to 20% in energy consumption (and costs).
If you'd like to learn more about DC power distribution, we have just the video for you:
A DC power distribution system can be as simple or as complex as your heart desires. The simple solution is to connect a high efficiency AC to DC power converter to your electrical grid. This way power is converted at the source to DC power, and distributed to all your connected building systems.
The next level up is to give your power distribution system smart capabilities. This can be done by adding intelligent control nodes to your new DC power distribution system. These nodes would have software integrated into them that wirelessly collect and transmit data via a mesh network. Next, connecting sensors to the system allows for data to be collected about your connected building systems, such as lights. And, of course, you’re going to want a user-friendly platform to monitor, track and analyze this collected data. This platform (sometimes called a digital twin) should also be interactive so that you can control, automate, and optimize building systems that you’re collecting data on. This way you can remotely control things like the brightness of your lights.
This is the least expensive method of implementing smart lighting into your building because it doesn’t require any additional cabling. Although it doesn't save as much energy, if you’re just looking to get started with smart lighting and save money through its automation capabilities, this might be the option for you.
One way to go about this method is by replacing all your light bulbs with smart bulbs. However, if you use fixtures rather than bulbs (meaning that your lighting is in the ceiling controlled by a switch), you might be better off replacing the switches themselves with smart switches and dimmers. Tech Hive points out that “Leviton, Lutron, TP-Link, Ecobee, and other manufacturers make smart light switches that operate on your Wi-Fi network and don’t require a central hub”.
Another way to choose between installing smart bulbs or switches is to consider that smart bulbs can be controlled individually, whereas if you decide to go with a switch, you can control all the lights on that circuit. The drawback with the smart bulb route is that it can be expensive depending on how many bulbs you plan to replace with smart bulbs. However, smart switches are far more complicated to install, as you must connect them to your main power supply. This means turning off the power and dealing with the exposed wire behind the switch (a job for a qualified electrician).
Another thing to consider is if you want to monitor, control and automate all of your connected smart devices via an app, or if you’re only planning on making your lighting system smart. If you’re simply looking to install a smart lighting system, a smart switch will probably suit your needs. However, if you also want to convert other devices in your home, office or building into smart devices, a hub would allow you to pull all of these devices together under one user interface. Just make sure the hub you choose is compatible with all your smart devices.
As a reminder, this option will provide you with the energy savings that come from automating your LED lighting system, but your building will still be wasting about 20% of its energy with unnecessary conversions from AC to DC power.
Both PoE and intelligent low voltage DC power distribution systems conserve energy through the use of DC power and automation capabilities. Whereas option 3 (an intelligent AC power distribution system) is the most widespread, smart lighting solution, but only saves energy through its automation capabilities. This means you would still be wasting about 20% in energy costs due to power conversions. On top of that, PoE is the most expensive system between option 1 and 2. It is for this reason that if you’re looking for a smart lighting system that allows you to monitor, control, automate and optimize your energy use, without replacing any of your existing building systems, option 2 would be the most simple and cost effective to implement.
The Argentum SpacrGrid is a good example of an all-in-one intelligent low voltage DC power distribution system. The system also communicates with BACnet devices, such as lighting and HVAC in commercial buildings. This enables data from these systems to be visually represented in real-time on a digital twin app (the SpacrApp). The app is cloud-based, and user friendly. With it, you can monitor all of your connected building systems, and either manually or automatically control connected devices (such as your lighting) so as to optimize energy consumption.
Read more about the benefits of implementing this system in your own building on Argentum’s product page. You can also book a free demo to see how it works.
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