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Should lighting control systems cost the earth? Marc Ottolini, CEO of iSotera, believes there is an alternative


s Andrew Brister reported in the Autumn 2010 issue of ECA Today, the UK government has put in place an extensive framework of regulations, taxes and incentives in place, which is driving

the emergence of a whole new industry of green building refurbishments. In particular, in commercial property, lighting constitutes a signifi cant part (around 20 per cent) of the overall electrical power consumption. Government instruments and technological advancements are improving the fi nancial attractiveness of Energy Effi cient Lighting (EEL) systems. These systems are not just about more effi cient light sources (such as LEDs) but also about lighting controls. It is accepted that properly laid out lighting control systems

generate energy savings of 20-40 per cent, and sometimes more, which from an energy saving perspective makes them the logical fi rst step in any green refurbishment. Despite this, it often happens that in the fi nal tendering/negotiation stage, lighting controls are the fi rst thing to be dropped, as they may represent a large part of the overall lighting system costs and proposed payback times may fail to meet clients’ expectations.

So what are the issues that make lighting control systems too expensive? Most lighting control systems offer a high degree of sophistication, with a multitude of functions and features, including monitoring functions and integration into Building Management Systems (BMS). In large-scale projects this level of sophistication may have merit, but it comes at the cost of complexity. In the end, it is the basic control functions that produce the actual energy savings and most cost savings. Less complex systems can perform these functions equally well. It turns out that in the vast majority of cases, only the most

basic functions (and sometimes just the dimming function) are being used, which means that for many users such systems are over-kill and, as a consequence, the purchase price unnecessarily high.

66 ECA Today Winter 2010

solution The vast majority of installed lighting systems don’t

have controls (other than a wall switch). When retrofi tting a lighting control system, additional devices need to be installed. In order to allow lighting fi xtures, sensors and central control units to communicate with one another, additional low voltage wiring needs to be installed as well. This can be a time-consuming job and, dependent on scale and complexity, can give rise to errors, leading to more time spent on fault fi nding. Furthermore, hardwired solutions are not the most fl exible, while adaptability of lighting systems is of great value in the commercial building environment. One way to overcome these issues is the use of wireless

controls, which are becoming more affordable. It is easy to see the attractiveness of wireless solutions in terms of adaptability and reduced installation costs. However, these wireless devices still need power, which can be supplied by battery packs (requiring maintenance), energy harvesting (signifi cant capital expense) – or by wiring them up… Another aspect that makes the installation of lighting

About the author

Marc Ottolini Marc Ottolini is CEO of iSotera Ltd. Previously he held senior management positions at Philips Electronics NV and Dialight PLC.

control systems expensive is the fi nal commissioning and programming of the system. This is closely related to their complexity and the wide range of options they offer, often requiring specialist installers or staff from the vendor of the control system. This comes at a cost, and also complicates work scheduling.

Do we really need all this sophistication and expense? Going back to basics, from the contractor’s perspective, what are the key criteria for selecting a lighting control system?

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