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LEDs are unique in many ways, but perhaps the most intriguing aspect of their distinctiveness is their affinity to be controlled. Conventional light sources do not like to be controlled and actually demonstrate diminished performance, such as reduced efficacy and life expectancy, as controls are introduced. LEDs, on the other hand, are a different breed. In fact, the more they are controlled, the longer they last and the more efficiently they operate. Because all of the components (LED light engines and controls) are now digital, solid-state, intelligent devices, they work together seamlessly, delivering a level of performance and simplicity that is unprecedented with lighting systems.

When paired with well-designed and integrated digital components, LED lighting systems are fully capable of executing common lighting control strategies, such as manual dimming, scheduling, occupancy sensing, and daylight harvesting. Moreover, the solid-state nature of LED components easily facilitates the use of advanced control strategies like lumen design and management, high-end trim tuning at the space and luminaire level, as well as integrated building management systems and utility demand response. Because LEDs essentially put a “chip” in every luminaire, digital addressability and local control flexibility become standard features.

The inherent compatibility of LEDs with digital lighting controls holds tremendous promise beyond dimming and other typical controls options. LEDs are digital light engines that can interface directly to onboard luminaire control logic. The result is an “intelligent” luminaire that has the ability to monitor and respond to its environment and perform pre-programmed tasks to further conserve input power/reduce luminaire maintenance. Potential tasks include: managing lumen output actively over time; monitoring and adapting to variations in ambient temperature; monitoring system life; and detecting a fault in the system for quicker troubleshooting and maintenance.

In addition, the LED luminaire is digitally addressable, allowing it to easily network and communicate with other luminaires and similar control devices in the same room or throughout a building. Network connections can easily be made using standard Cat. 5 cabling for true plug-and-play convenience. The ability to use simple Cat. 5 cabling to connect LED fixtures to other fixtures and controls delivers two critical benefits:

  1. As with computers, Cat. 5 cabling allows digital information to freely and easily flow from fixture to fixture and from fixtures to various room controls or building controls. This, in turn, allows controls to be embedded right into the fixture and — as soon as the cable is connected — enables the fixture to become its own “IP address.” This means it’s automatically recognized (addressable) and can deliver its own data about how it is performing. Likewise, it can receive directions on what to do.
  2. Cat. 5 cabling is easier to install and make changes to, because it is very flexible. As a result, the initial setup cost — both in terms of time and materials (compared to standard 2-wire systems) — is significantly less. Because space typically has to be reconfigured over time, it is simple to move and readdress fixtures. They no longer have to be zoned or grouped — each fixture can be recognized and placed anywhere in the plan.

We are only now beginning to understand and unlock the full potential of LEDs and controls. Therefore, it’s important — if not critical — to consider more than just the luminaires and components when comparing and specifying LED lighting.

Investigate how controls can enhance LED lighting benefits and what this means over the long term for a facility when seeking to improve lighting quality, reduce operating costs, and incorporate lighting into overall building management systems. Ultimately, digital lighting systems will more easily connect with intelligent buildings.

Ranieri is the VP and general manager of Lithonia Lighting’s Commercial Indoor Business Unit. He can be reached at: dave.ranieri@acuitybrands.com.