Traditional lighting systems are being eclipsed by technologically advanced solutions that are gradually changing the way we think about building control specification. Andrew Mckenna of global associates examines the key reasons behind the emerging lighting revolution.

The lighting sector has undergone something of a transformation in recent years and although some of the changes have flown under the radar and won’t necessarily have caused much of a stir outside of the built environment, developments such as automatic lighting controls and the introduction of LED technology have hit the mainstream, dramatically reshaping the market.

The potential for further positive change has been demonstrated by the emergence of intelligent lighting that is fully integrated into building operational systems – technology that combines multiple elements to provide a one-stop solution and is about as far from traditional lighting as can be imagined.

Joined up approach

Conventionally classified as a siloed, stand-alone system, lighting has moved on and demands a more flexible, holistic approach using open protocols that facilitate communication with other devices. In the past, the majority of manufacturers designed and released closed systems that would only communicate with their own products and systems. Thankfully this trend appears to have been reversed and open protocol is very much the order of the day, resulting in cost, efficiency and wellbeing benefits for the end user.

The joined-up thinking starts at the specification stage – whereas, traditionally speaking, mechanical and electrical specifications have been considered separately, the truly smart building blurs the lines between the two elements, forcing specifiers to take an ‘all-inclusive’ approach. When viewed as one single package, a fully integrated lighting system can do so much more, allowing end users to take full control of their building assets by using lighting PIR sensors to control other elements.


PIR sensors may be associated with lighting controls and security but these same sensors can be used to control heating, cooling, access, open blinds and much more, feeding back information on temperature, humidity, CO2 and tracking motion to help determine occupancy levels.

Once linked to the building operation system via BACnet or a similar communication protocol, end users can make use of smart dashboards, giving them the information they need to drive down the excessive costs associated with wasted energy. Cost effective and future proof, these multi-functional sensors are easily configurable and can be added to as businesses expand or moved around as layouts change. Data is the key to unlocking some of the latest cutting-edge smart building applications and sensors play an integral part in enabling modern room booking systems, wayfinding programs and other high-end ‘intelligent’ applications to operate as intended.


Some of the most efficient open protocol systems use Power over Ethernet or PoE based lighting control to maximise savings and save time. PoE may not work for every project but it does have a number of significant advantages over traditional lighting configurations.

Simply put, PoE utilises a wired Ethernet network to push power and data through a single cable (often Category 5e) and where lighting is concerned this means eliminating AC to DC power conversions, improving overall efficiency. As well as being extra low voltage and plug and play by its very nature, PoE installation and maintenance costs are typically lower than those of traditional systems as there is no requirement to employ skilled labour. Reductions in material costs should also be factored in as PoE reduces the need for masses of copper mains cabling, large distribution boards and sizable amounts of vertical infrastructure in ceiling voids. Add all of these elements together and the end user could be looking at typical savings in the region of 25 to 30% over a conventional lighting system, bringing down the average wattage per floor figure and potentially improving the building’s BREEAM rating.

Emergency lighting

The monthly testing of emergency lighting can be a labourious process, particularly in large commercial buildings. Though we all recognise its importance in keeping occupants safe, the process of manually checking individual luminaires following activation is time consuming and a drain on resources.

With an intelligent lighting system installed, emergency testing becomes fully automated, taking manual inspections out of the equation and reducing any risk of error. Individual luminaires can report their own status as well as light output level and they can do so continuously so that faults can be located and addressed as soon as they occur, rather than waiting to be picked up during the next scheduled test.

Co2 monitoring

As briefly touched on above, CO2 sensors can be integrated into lighting sensors in order to help the building operational system keep levels below a certain setpoint and ultimately to improve air quality by introducing fresh air to indoor spaces when necessary.

The Federation of European Heating, Ventilation and Air Conditioning association, or REHVA as it is more commonly known, has been working to draw attention to the negative effects caused by poor air quality and have produced papers that suggest diseases such as asthma, heart disease, allergies and host of minor health problems can be exacerbated by poor air quality in our buildings. Though more research is required, current evidence seems to suggest that at the very least poor indoor air quality can reduce productivity and performance in the workplace and amongst students in schools and colleges.


Similar studies into employee productivity have shown that lighting design and intelligent lighting systems can also enhance the wellbeing of building occupants, improving energy levels, alertness and boosting overall productivity. An integrated smart lighting system can be used to better imitate natural light, helping to maintain our natural circadian rhythm. This is often referred to as human centric lighting (HCL) and puts building occupants at the very heart of the lighting design in order to ensure that the workplace is as visually stimulating as it can be.

With more attention being paid to employee wellbeing and productivity, a lighting system that’s perfectly in-sync with other building services and one that can communicate with existing devices is an attractive long-term proposition for building owners and operators.

Next generation

The move towards an increasingly integrated built environment is well under way as consultants, specifiers and end users recognise the benefits of a more holistic approach to electrical and mechanical specification. An intelligent lighting system integrated into a building operational system not only offers unrivalled flexibility and efficiency when compared with traditional systems, it can bring together a multitude of devices to provide high levels of visibility and control.

User-configurable smart sensors mean that almost every building service can now be delivered by the lighting system via the building operational system, saving on costs and offering up supreme levels of sophistication in a single package. Smarter lighting isn’t simply LEDs and basic controls – it’s time to demand more from our lighting systems and unlock the potential found in intelligent integration.