Taking the plunge with lighting controls


Long gone are the days when a lighting installation required a cable run, fixture and light switch. These days, thanks to the introduction of high efficacy light sources and popularity of energy management systems, contractors are increasingly required to understand the finer complexities of the Digital Addressable Lighting Interface (DALI), LED lamp technologies and how these interact with manufacturer-specific control systems. Steve Buckley, electrical contracts manager at Lutron, discusses why it is worth keeping up with the latest technologies and how they can benefit the bottom line


As anyone who has spent time on a project site will know, reliability, speed and ease of installation are key elements to any successful job. When a product has proved its worth time and again, trying something new seems too much of a risk. However as a research report released on M&E contractors highlights, despite ongoing contraction in the M&E market, installations that are focused on improving energy efficiency and reducing carbon emissions are thriving. So, for those contractors looking to develop and grow their businesses at this difficult time, incorporating energy efficient systems into their kit list is a must.

Expanding horizons

Although the ‘if it ain’t broke why fix it’ mentality works well in many situations, when it comes to growing a business in a contracting market, it is vital contractors know what customers want and meet their needs with just the right balance of products. Although learning about any new technology is an investment in time, the commercial benefits outweigh the learning curve. In particular, three areas that can save contractors time and give new business opportunities are: understanding how to maximise the use of the Digital Addressable Lighting Interface (DALI) protocol, knowing the pitfalls and opportunities of LEDs and seeing the potential power of lighting controls.

All things DALI
Established as an open standard alternative to DSI, the DALI protocol has a lot of supporters. DALI uses bi-directional data exchange and the protocol allows each fixture, dimmer and/or ballast to be controlled or updated as a standalone, or as part of a group by the controller.

The feature becomes a huge advantage on jobs where the brief is not set in stone, is being changed daily by the design team, or where the building will be re-configured into different zones in the future, this is where DALI brings in the flexibility required. As DALI requires only a single pair of wires to form the bus for communication to all devices on a single DALI network, when connected to the electrical distribution board, the contractor can run cables to fixtures, dimmers and ballasts, rather than to zones of lighting, and then the finer points of the programming and control of the zones can be set at a later date. This is in direct contrast to traditional lighting systems that usually require the zoning to be planned in advance of the cable runs. The use of DALI not only avoids on the job hold-ups, but ensures the installation is done as quickly and efficiently as possible, saving the contractor both time and money. The inbuilt flexibility of a DALI interfaced system also has benefits for those in the maintenance market.  Any changes in zoning requirements can be done quickly and easily with no retrofit wiring ensuring minimum disruption to the client.

Since the launch of Lutron’s Energi Savr Node simple, scalable, programmable solution, many contractors have given positive feedback on the system’s ease and speed of installation and re-programming and the benefits that they have been able to pass on to clients. In addition to installation and retrofit benefits, Lutron has found its Energi Savr Node system, which controls light and saves energy in any commercial space controls light by connecting occupancy sensors, daylight sensors and wallstations to DALI (digitally addressable light interface) ballasts saves 60% or more energy and increases productivity by 5-10%.

The Energi Savr Node’s ability to control DALI ballasts offers flexibility for reconfiguring frequently changing spaces, making it ideal for commercial installations.  The modules can be installed locally, or throughout the commercial space, depending on requirements. Each module comes with four wired sensor group inputs (each sensor group has an occupancy sensor, daylight sensor and infrared receiver), two DALI loops of up to 64 fixtures per loop and a QS link. The QS link enables up to 100 devices or control zones to be linked to each Energi Savr Node module, including Lutron’s Sivoia QS blinds control solution, Lutron’s SeeTouch QS wallstations, additional Energi Savr Node modules, power supply panels and Lutron’s Quantum total light management system as required.

With lighting accounting for up to 33% of a building's total electricity consumption in commercial buildings , controlling both light levels and energy usage can provide vital costs savings. Typical energy savings when using the Lutron Energi Savr Node module in a commercial installation have been calculated as 60% for lighting and 10% for HVAC. These are broken down as follows: dimming/high energy trimming - 20% lighting savings, occupancy/vacancy sensing - 15% lighting savings, daylight harvesting - 15% lighting savings, personal light control – 10% lighting savings and controllable window shades – 10% HVAC savings.

Let there be LED light?
Another area where contractors can make inroads is in the arena of all things LED.  Since the dramatic growth of LED lamp technology for commercial applications, contractors are being faced with many challenges concerning their installation and operation. Long gone are the days when a fluorescent, halogen or incandescent could be chosen because of its wattage and base-type alone. With the introduction of LED technology, contractors are now being asked to install a wide range of lamps, fixtures and drivers with no guarantee of how they will interact together.

Compatibility is a significant factor in the overall performance of the installed scheme. Once a contractor is happy with the quality of the luminaire and its LED lamp technology, how do they know it is going to work with the light control system that they are using?  One of the complexities is there are two factors to consider – the compatibility between the LED driver and the control, but also between the driver and the lamp. Everything needs to be working together in order to maximise performance for the contractor and end user. This is why it is important for whoever specifies the system to choose a lighting control manufacturer that provides built-in layers of compatibility. Lutron not only offers 0-10V control, DALI, switching and phase-adaptive dimming modules, but also Lutron’s own digital protocol, EcoSystem to ensure maximum flexibility and reliability for specifiers and installers alike.

Taking the plunge – top tips
Not just about price - To minimise risk when it comes to learning new technologies and introducing them on the job, remember that it isn’t just about going for the cheapest price. The manufacturer needs to show they can provide reliable products, offer good product support and are interested in shared project ownership. This means if there is a problem onsite, rather than sitting back and blaming another manufacturer’s product for compatibility issues, they are willing to roll up their sleeves and help solve the problem.

Breadth of product offering - Also, to reduce compatibility issues onsite choose manufacturers with a breadth of products; a case in point is the DALI standard which only applies to load devices such as fluorescent ballasts, LEDs and dimmers and doesn’t include sensors or switches. To minimise onsite problems choose a manufacturer that can provide both controls and sensors, or work with one who will advise on products that are compatible.

Comprehensive training - Finally, before committing to any product installations; get trained. As part of Lutron’s commitment to ensuring contractors understand and maximise the commercial opportunities out there when installing light control solutions, the company runs its commercial contractor training programme. This has multiple stages, ranging from the three hour ECA linked introduction to light controls training session and the one day energy solutions training programme to the more advanced two day GRAFIK Eye and Energi Savr Node programming courses.

Although anything ‘new’ has a learning curve, becoming well versed in the benefits of light control technology and how advances can save both time and money is time well spent.  As LED technology becomes increasingly prevalent and onsite budgets and timelines continue to feel the squeeze, making the most of the latest control solutions, DALI and LED technologies is well worth taking the plunge.