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Smarter Light Systems for Smart Buildings

14 Oct 2019

When it comes to the smart building of today, there is a lot to be said for its ability to keep occupants satisfied, especially when it comes to lighting. Demands are high, both in terms of comfort and costs, as well as waste management.

Did you know it takes around 25,000 watts to illuminate a 100 sq. m. space? Imagine that adding up over the course of a week, month and year. At 60 hours a week that’s going to hit 78,267.9kWh for a regular office in just one year. No wonder energy-efficient lighting systems are in such high demand!

The great news is that artificial intelligence (AI) is capable of helping reduce light energy waste. When programmed and applied efficiently, it can significantly drive down those Kilowatt-hours. Let’s explore in more detail how emerging technologies can be used to improve energy efficiency and ratings, and add value for building owners and occupiers whilst keeping building owner satisfaction and user comfort levels at optimum levels.

How can it get smarter than a motion sensor?

You are likely familiar with occupancy (motion) sensor-controlled lights in washrooms and other such rooms. You walk in, the light comes on, then once there’s been no motion for a set time, off the light goes. Photosensors work a little differently but on the same automatic basis. They sense ambient light conditions then react to improve comfort, like when sunlight coming through a window intensifies and the lights auto-dim and blinds close.

Quick fact: infrared and ultrasonic are the two different types of occupancy sensors. Infrared occupancy sensors detect heat, whilst motion and ultrasonic occupancy sensors detect sound.

Installing occupancy sensors in an open floor office could turn out to be frustrating if all the lights started switching on and off too frequently. A delayed timer could leave you in the dark at the wrong time, or a rudimentary sound sensor might activate in response to an accidental loud noise such as a water glass breaking. Meanwhile, photosensors can have blind spots. What’s more, the controls are really only useful in offices with large windows that receive high amounts of direct sunlight. All of this can make photosensor controls redundant where there are seasonal variations, such as more daylight hours during the summer than the winter.

If we combined all the possible sensors out there in an attempt to please all the people in all the scenarios all of the time, someone would still need to programme the controls for each. But would that technical engineer be around 24/7? Unlikely. Further, with so many influential factors, preferences are known to change, sometimes as frequently as by the hour.

It’s precisely why a smart lighting system will benefit from a well-connected operation that processes input from multiple sources, in real-time.

Human-centric lighting to improve well-being in the workplace

The average person in London spends 90 per cent of their time indoors. Biologically, we all have circadian rhythms (meridian body clocks) that are greatly affected by light. White light, naturally emitted from the sun, hinders melatonin production in the body. Melatonin is the sleep-inducing hormone, so without it, we’re going to feel awake and energised. Blue light is also naturally emitted from the sun. Lack of white and blue light promotes melatonin production leading to drowsiness, which is ideal at night when we’re off to bed.

Quick fact: During the course of a day, there is bluer light in the early morning time, then whiter light during the day, yellowish light during sunset, and then, of course, less sunlight when the sun goes down at night.

Whilst blue and white light ignite more energy leading to a better ability to focus and be productive, too much white light can actually stress out the body and throw your circadian rhythm out of balance, leading to sleep disturbance as well as other disorders, such as bipolar behaviour and seasonal defective disorder (SAD).

Given these facts, it’s no wonder extensive use of artificial white light and electronic devices (which emit artificial blue light) outside of what our bodies are naturally designed for, can have negative health effects. Hence, it is so important that smart lighting systems should be capable of changing colour according to the time of day, as well as in response to natural body comfort needs.

Mimicking natural sunlight will not only improve well-being in a workplace but will also potentially save heat energy waste from the overuse of bright white lights, especially in buildings that lack proper cooling systems. It will also result in reduced ‘wear-and-tear’ of luminaires.

Where to start with making lighting systems ‘smarter’?

Auto-scaling is a model that could be applied to lighting systems. It’s a process that uses AI to automatically ‘scale-up’ or ‘scale-down’ server capacity in response to pre-programmed factors.

The key benefits to auto-scaling are:

  • Effective cost management
  • Efficient response to sudden volume/high traffic
  • Improved fault tolerance to immediately replace or compensate for any issues

In some cases, predictive auto-scaling uses AI to respond ahead of time to identified factors and patterns automatically.


Applying the auto-scaling model to lighting systems

In auto-scaling lighting systems, all lights would be mapped out, grouped and classified. Protocols could then be set to automatically turn on or off groups of lights and/or increase or decrease brightness, and/or change light colour in response to environmental factors and patterns.

Auto-scaling could also be used to reserve certain groups of lights for high demand scenarios, or for situations where outages are detected, switching the reserves on responsively or in relation to high or low-level floor occupancy. Then, with reduced reliance on human control, energy consumption and the related costs would be lowered overall.

AI automation which reacts to changes in the metrics being collected means that patterns often missed by building managers can be acted upon so as to reduce waste. It also frees up managers’ time so they can focus on more pressing issues. So, multiple benefits there.

Developing smarter lighting systems for workplaces

AI depends on the perfect marriage of AI automation and human intelligence. For this reason, smarter lighting systems should be capable of taking input from occupants and users – and potentially other sources – at any time. All of this is possible with the Internet of Things (IoT) technology.

IoT integration

By connecting light control devices and sensors to a private broadband connection in the workplace via BACnet and MQTT integration (see The Gateway to Smart Building Enablement), building and facilities managers and occupiers alike could, given no pre-set level of generic rules exist, easily input preferences to the system in real-time with an IoT app such as Smart Spaces.

AI automation and user-friendly UI

At the same time, data collection can be published on the IoT app, creating a feedback loop for preferences based on data being analysed and acted upon by AI automation. This can then be manually inputted via a laptop or smartphone. Not to mention the potential for Business Intelligence mining too; valuable data that can be used to cut costs and reduce wastage. Everyone stands to draw benefits from both isolated and collaborative ‘smartness’, tending to individual user needs whilst closely monitoring overall building costs and usage forecasts.

The potential savings

If 1 kWh was saved per day in an office building at a rate of £0.14 per 1 kWh/hr, in just one year you would enjoy savings of £51.10. Of course, the larger the building, the greater the number of lumens lighting up workspaces, and the greater the potential savings that could be made by employing smarter lighting systems.

In the end, it’s going to require the development of a network of colour-changing-and-dimming-capable LED lights; various sensors; AI automation; machine learning and IoT to make lighting systems smarter. There are ‘smart light bulbs’ already on the market, but there is no need to have each light bulb in an office building Bluetooth/Wi-Fi capable and ready on standby mode. An IoT platform could manage a centralised lighting system efficiently and enable combinations of adjustments to be made in real-time, whilst improving AI automation.

IoT and self-learning AI are highly advantageous. They can both be applied to most pre-existing buildings and, in a retrofitting fashion (depending on the artistic flair of an experienced, involved and perceptive team), create smarter buildings which present a raft of benefits for everyone who owns, runs and works in them.


Check out the next article: The Case for ‘smarter’ HVAC systems


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