Christina Halfpenny, executive director of the DesignLights Consortium

As the DesignLights Consortium (DLC) looks back at 2018, highlights of our year include publication of a study pointing to an underutilized source for significant building energy savings -and a route to smarter buildings. In 2019, those findings will inform the development of a new DLC specification covering networked lighting controls and a corresponding tool to guide managers in the selection of smart lighting technology.

With Energy Star and the EIA reporting that energy use is the single biggest operating expense for US commercial office buildings, and that electricity consumed to light them comprises 17 percent of the country’s total electricity usage, there are clear and urgent bottom line benefits for moving away from legacy lighting to newer, efficient technologies.

That transition is happening in the commercial sector much slower than in the residential space. By 2035, the Department of Energy projects LEDs will comprise 86 percent of all lighting products in the US, driving electricity savings equal to that consumed annually by 45 million homes and reducing energy costs by nearly $52 billion. The vast majority of those savings will come from the commercial and industrial sector, where the uptake of LEDs is now just 13 percent.

To maximize those savings, however, building managers need to look beyond LEDs alone and pair the move to LED fixtures with simultaneous installation of networked lighting controls (NLCs). NLCs are devices that link up lighting fixtures, sensors, and switches, either wirelessly or through control wiring. Their core function facilitates adjustment of individual building fixtures or zones in concert with changing conditions and space usage. According to our study, “Energy Savings Potential of DLC Commercial Lighting and Networked Lighting Controls,” NLCs can cut energy use by an average of 47 percent compared with savings from installation of just LEDs.

Taking into consideration LEDs’ long shelf life, the rationale for putting in NLCs at the same time is obvious. Failing to do so risks stranding both the significant extra savings available, and the smart building opportunities NLCs enable. In addition, practical reasons to marry LEDs and NLCs at the time of installation include saving labor costs (which comprise much of the cost of new lighting) and eliminating potential equipment compatibility issues by ordering fixtures with controls pre-installed. Utility incentives are also more likely to be available for projects making the initial jump to controllable LEDs from less efficient lighting.

Current uptake of NLCs is limited due to factors such as poor understanding of the technology and inadequate training. Strengthening both the NLC value proposition and customer acceptance will be a major focus for the DLC in the year ahead. Our V4.0 revision to the NLC specification will specify the capabilities that systems must provide in order to be qualified through the DLC, which lists qualified products for Energy Services Companies, lighting designers, manufacturers, and utilities across North America. Specifically, our updates will focus on three objectives: cybersecurity to increase trust and credibility of the systems for IT departments and acceptance by customers and efficiency programs, and energy monitoring to deliver more information on system and building performance that strengthens the value of investing in the technology. Finally, we are looking at interoperability to outline a roadmap for qualifying interoperable systems which will facilitate building system integration, a huge value proposition to facility managers.

Addressing cybersecurity concerns is critical, given research showing that 70 percent of IoT devices are vulnerable to cyberattack, and another study putting the average annual cost of data breach at nearly $4 million. Improving cybersecurity is a multi-year effort and we look forward to rolling out the next phase of our work in 2019.

In terms of energy monitoring, improvements in this area will enhance savings data to support higher efficiency incentives, in turn making systems more attractive to potential customers. Boosting energy monitoring capabilities is another multi-year effort, as is the DLC’s plan to improve interoperability between NLCs and other smart building systems. Interoperability efforts in 2019 will involve research to inform a comprehensive plan for vetting in 2020.

For those in the market for LEDs and NLCs, it’s crucial to contact your local utility company and take advantage of any incentives offered. There are currently more than 6,500 utility rebates from 240 utility programs available on DLC-qualified products in the U.S., with the average per product rebate nearing $80. Tapping these incentives can typically reduce the upfront cost of a lighting project by 20 to 25 percent.

There are a number of resources available on the DLC website right now for those interested in learning more, including an NLC Installer Training Program and the NLC Qualified Products List (QPL). The QPL identifies which systems are standards-based or come pre-installed within light fixtures, features designed to avoid compatibility challenges. The QPL also offers information on the comparative complexity of installing various systems.