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Lighting up today and tomorrow

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Electrical Review hosted a roundtable debate among lighting designers and consultants in partnership with Hager.  It was arranged to facilitate wide-ranging discussions around some of the current challenges facing lighting installation and design, from ‘spec busting’ to issues around commissioning, and some of the key trends for the future including, the evolution and growth of LED technology and interconnectivity across lighting and broader building management systems

There was a general feeling that the marketplace has to be far more educated about the concept of ‘value engineering’ and be prepared to look at the bigger picture rather than solely at cost.  Indeed, the discussion highlighted that the industry needs to continually strive to promote the overall benefits of a full lifecycle perspective that takes into account warranties and the cost of total installation, so a return on investment can be calculated over the long-term.  

A member of the discussion commented: “If you’re value engineering, you are adding value to the product and the service that is being offered.  So, a product with a 10 year lifespan with a three year payback, will give you a return on investment over the remaining 7 years.”  

The consensus was that there remains a continual struggle to convince all parties as to the wider value to be gained from a long-term, holistic view of a lighting project.  It is problematic, as one observer cited: “My clients are not interested in the pay back.  They want the building up and running as quickly as possible and they’ll go for the cheapest fittings to do the job.” 

Likewise, a tendency to stick with the norm prevails.  Projects are frequently demanding new lighting systems to integrate with existing ones, even though it is not always the best solution, and this mind-set can often be seen when dealing with large facilities management departments that do not want to move away from familiar systems.  Such decisions mean many projects are missing out on new and additional system benefits, but clients prefer to remain with the familiar install systems they trust.

The participants also articulated a general feeling of frustration that, in many cases, highly appropriate, benefit-driven lighting systems can be designed and put together, but these are then compromised by a cheaper alternative at installation.  While acknowledging the real world reality where cost is a primary motivating factor, there was a belief that projects are missing out on many benefits by taking a short-term, cost-driven approach and thereby ensuring ‘spec-busting’ remains a tangible challenge.

Education also remains key.  Value engineering needs to be understood through the supply chain so contractors and end users alike are more prepared to accept the recommendations and expertise on offer when they employ consultants.  In essence, value engineering in the eyes of one attendee can be summarised as: “Adding value for the same cost, the cost of the project doesn’t change…but you add in a lot more value.  Stopping the client from spec busting and going down the cheaper avenue is fundamental.”

Difficulties of commissioning systems

Linked heavily to the challenges associated with ‘spec busting’, the understanding and appreciation of value engineering, is that of commissioning different systems.

It was agreed that contractors are sometimes reluctant to spend costly time and valuable resources learning about different lighting systems and will understandably often select those they are familiar with.  However, when it comes to commissioning, this can cause issues. 

Maintenance engineers can struggle to make sense of the system that has been individually specified, installed and connected.  The lack of emphasis on training and absence of a holistic overview is compromising projects, especially when the incentive is to simply get the system working as quickly as possible.

The answer perhaps lies in the advent of more simplified lighting systems to take the pressure off engineers to learn about multiple systems.  Every specifier prefers a different system so, installers can be lost amongst a wide range of solutions and end up with systems not fully commissioned or just put to function.  Simple systems that can be easily commissioned and tested would be beneficial and, in the opinion of those at the roundtable debate, be a real selling point, reversing the long running trend where buildings have incorrectly commissioned lighting systems properly because no one knows how to set them up.

Trends for the future

Evolution of LED

The evolution and growing impact of LED is recognised through its rapid expansion over the last three years.  There was a belief that with LED product pricing falling in line with other fittings, has helped standardise its selection for many more installations.  Its growing popularity is also fuelled by sustainability and performance efficiency messages.  As one attendee commented: “The way LED is sold, the way LED is manufactured and the way LED is packaged now is massively different to just two years ago.”  

Evolving LED technology has seen massive improvements in performance and capability, with product robustness cited as evidence that current solutions are far superior to those initially launched to the marketplace.  This is supported with solid test data missing five years ago, but now available to prove the worth and long-term characteristics of LED solutions.  This growth and popularity is forecast to continue.

Importance of data and how to interrogate it

There was general consensus that data is at the heart of the next big industry breakthrough.  Based upon intelligent systems to collect and provide data covering all aspects of the system’s performance, the panel challenged building and facilities managers with taking the next step and using the available data provided from systems to inform strategic decision-making.  This may be impacted by resourcing issues or a reluctance to take the next step, but it was seen as essential for end users to drive the greatest benefits from their lighting systems.   

Data can provide valuable insight such as whether a light fitting is working properly or efficiently.  However, in facilities management, where the average job value is key to winning and keeping contracts, it is about managing the estate as effectively as possible.  This often involves dealing with multiple products requiring support and gives rise to concerns from managers around data consistency.


A move towards increased connectivity between user and lighting control systems was identified as a key trend.  Cloud-based technology will inspire further moves towards IP connectivity throughout a building as a gradual replacement for large amounts of cabling to support a lighting circuit.  Examples given of where better interconnectivity is already in place and is driving benefits included, a 60% decrease in energy use thanks to use of embedded system controls at one site, and the ability of wireless technology to provide full fault reporting and energy monitoring across an entire estate.

The influence of KNX as an open protocol was also discussed and its ability to link KNX products together despite differing manufacturing origins was praised.  However, due to its lack of specification in the UK, we are still catching up as far as acceptance is concerned, when compared with mainland Europe.

In summary, participants were in agreement on five key topics:

  1. The need to further promote the value of long-term thinking and not just short-term cost saving for lighting system specification.
  2. To aid electrical contractors in working more seamlessly with a myriad of systems, more simplified solutions are required allowing individuals to build their confidence and experience.
  3. LED is set to continue its rapid recent growth as new generation technology further supports its performance and sustainability credentials.
  4. The importance of gathering and interrogating lighting system data to optimise performance and system understanding will help to deliver true added value and benefits.
  5. Interconnectivity is gaining a stronger foothold on a daily basis. The promotion of lighting systems that can link and communicate with other building management technology to provide a holistic viewpoint of building performance and potential, will become a critical factor for the industry over the coming years.

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