Building systems set to hand over the keys to cubicle
By Jeff Harris, NEEA
Jeff Harris isdirector of emerging technology at NEEA. He was recently recognized for his contributions to energy efficiency by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. For more information, please visit neea.org.
Most buildings are built for people and their activities. Yet to this day we still design and build spaces where the control over lighting and comfort systems is in the hands of some impersonal centralized control system that operates the whole building as if every floor, every cubicle is the same.
It’s no surprise that comfort complaints — too hot or too cold, too much glare — remain the No.1 complaint with tenants. What if we could design and build systems that give individuals direct control over the temperature, ventilation and light in their workspace? Kind of like the experience we all have every time we get in our cars? How is it that my car is smarter, more adaptable to my individual comfort needs than my building? Probably an unanswerable question, however, recently we’ve begun to get a glimpse into the answer to the question “what if personal control was available?”
New luminaire-level lighting control technology recently tested by NEEA and its partners provides a glimpse at what “turning over the keys to the occupants” might look like. This emerging technology allows each individual lighting fixture in a commercial building to individually sense its surroundings and nearby occupants. This allows it to decide whether it needs to turn itself on, at what level, and for how long. Talk about smart. And before we give users “the keys,” this system has proven that it can save 40 percent to 50 percent out-of-the-box: no programming required. It’s tailor-made for retrofit projects — which should pique the interest of building owners.
This technology also has the ability to self-meter its own power consumption and can be installed without turning the control features on – enabling it to be self-baselining. By doing so, it produces current usage patterns and then automatically measures accrued savings. This paves the way for “pay for performance” energy savings transactions; creating new ways for utilities and customers to engage on efficiency.
The technology has built-in wireless communication with a mesh network. If all but one controller goes down, devices can still communicate. Web-based functionality lets users connect to the entire network by connecting to any one of the devices in the network.
One of the most exciting things about this technology is the ability to customize an environment for an individual’s comfort. Anyone who has a light fixture over their workstation can dial through the network and set their lighting to a specific light level, to come on at a specific time, and dim down at another.
Because the control includes a temperature sensor, it offers the potential to link control to the nearest air-vent or local space heaters for individual temperature and ventilation comfort. Luminaire level lighting controls technology takes personal level interaction to the next step in commercial building environments with a new generation of devices.
Building managers and owners who weren’t ready for this technology a decade ago might be ready to fully embrace it. Leasing agreements are already getting more specific about user requirements for plug loads, lighting and temperature bands. A building could have temperatures that swing — maybe wider than normal — but with luminaire-level lighting control, the tenant would have the option of a personal environmental station for employees to allow them to set comfort levels. Building owners could guarantee that 80 percent of the space is kept at a specific temperature but the remaining 20 percent is up to tenants which could equal big savings.
The story of how this new product came to be is almost as interesting. The product was developed by a Silicon Valley startup company that designs communications equipment. Mesh networked communication and measurement of individual device usage were starting points from their background. They brought experience from the cell phone industry in integrating features into a single chip solution, dramatically lowering the cost to end users.
Needless to say, the potential for this technology to turn the lighting retrofit market on its head is huge. It is cost competitive today with other, similarly featured control solutions while offering significant additional functionality and individualized control.
It’s this type of customization — and individual comfort systems — that will be the next wave of technology in commercial buildings that owners can use to keep their tenants happy and keep spaces leased while reducing overall energy consumption.
And maybe, sometime in the near future, my building will be as smart and as individualized as my car.
If you are commenting using a Facebook account, your profile information may be displayed with your comment depending on your privacy settings. By leaving the 'Post to Facebook' box selected, your comment will be published to your Facebook profile in addition to the space below.