You can't talk about smart buildings without talking about lighting. The last few decades have seen huge advances in technology and shifting business models. As technology becomes more efficient and light bulbs last longer, lighting companies have shifted their offerings towards a model focused on service, as opposed to exclusively hardware. These changes are driving a wealth of intelligence in buildings and data being used in new and exciting ways. We asked our team for their insights and predictions on the world of lighting in commercial buildings.
“Lighting Round” Q&A with The Comfy Team
Why is lighting so important in the commercial building space?
Lighting is one of the most significant areas of technology in the commercial building space for several reasons. First, lighting is the second largest consumer of energy in commercial buildings, after heating and cooling. The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that in 2015 lighting accounted for roughly 19% of all commercial sector electricity consumption in the U.S. Secondly, lighting is the most pervasive technology in buildings. The fact that some form of lighting is everywhere in a building means that it can be a powerful way of measuring other aspects of the occupant experience, like air quality, occupancy rate, and temperature. Finally, lighting also has a huge measurable impact on our physical well-being, with an especially noticeable impact on our circadian rhythms.
What's circadian rhythm and what does it have to do with buildings?
Circadian rhythms are physical, mental and behavioral changes that follow a roughly 24-hour cycle. Nearly all living things—animals, plants, even tiny microbes—experience circadian rhythms that influence important bodily functions, like sleep-wake cycles, hormone release, and body temperature. Circadian rhythms are produced by natural factors within the body, like hormones and genetic predisposition, but they are also strongly affected by external signals from the environment, especially light. In fact, creating lighting conditions that support patients' natural circadian rhythms has been linked with faster healing in hospitals. Alternatively, abnormal circadian rhythms have been associated with insomnia, obesity, diabetes, depression, bipolar disorder, and seasonal affective disorder.
In an office environment, numerous studies have shown a direct relationship between the amount of natural light office workers get and their performance at work. Generally, people near windows perform better, while people further from the windows have poorer sleep and are more likely to be sleepy during the day. We can't get daylight to everyone all the time, so how do we integrate lighting into design to improve the indoor experience? How can we go beyond a simple on-off switch and use daylight harvesting, spectrum control, and scheduling to match our natural circadian rhythm? How can we create an indoor experience that promotes well-being and inspiration?
Does that mean higher energy consumption is required for better lighting in buildings?
Not really. Just like how over air conditioning is a major problem in buildings, over illumination is also rampant. Several studies have shown that workplaces could reduce illumination by as much as 20% before occupants reported any noticeable discomfort. Meanwhile, we know that prolonged exposure to lights that are too bright can cause eye strain, headaches, fatigue, stress, anxiety, and even cardiovascular disease. The key is offering greater personalization. For example, the Light Right Consortium and National Research Council of Canada found that personal dimming options delivered 15% energy savings. Like temperature control, we know that greater occupant control of lighting delivers very real energy savings and an improved occupant experience.
What is “connected lighting”?
First, a very brief history on the evolution of lighting. Lighting in buildings started off as a basic necessity and came in the form of bulbs that turned on and off with a switch on the wall. Over the last 20 years, we’ve seen the emergence of more energy-efficient light bulbs and programmable controls that link to a larger on-site lighting control system and allow for more fine-tuning and schedule setting. Today, we are at the infancy of a new era, often called "connected lighting." Advances in IoT are making it possible for individual lighting fixtures in a building to become IP addressable. Why is this significant? Because lighting fixtures are so pervasive in a building, when they become IP addressable and outfitted with sensors, we suddenly create a complex wireless network of thousands of sensors throughout the entire building. With connected lighting, building operators can easily access a host of information on elements like temperature, occupancy, and carbon dioxide. These are measurements that used to be incredibly time-consuming or in some cases physically impossible to collect. Yet, they have huge potential in improving operational efficiency, space utilization, energy efficiency and occupant experience.
What are some of the advances and trends we can look forward to?
At this point, widespread adoption of LEDs is a given. It's already happening, because it simply makes sense. Next on the horizon, we are looking forward to widespread advancements in the quality of lighting in buildings, especially greater occupant control of light color and intensity, which can in turn lead to significant improvements in wellness and productivity while simultaneously reducing energy use. We are also incredibly excited by the opportunities that emerge with connected lighting. When connected lighting links to the cloud and connects to sensors, smart devices, and apps, building operators are able to turn real-time data into actionable insights that increase asset value for building owners and improve the workplace experience for occupants.