With a second iteration – now including exterior lighting controls – due out in June, the DesignLights Consortium’s Networked Lighting Controls (NLC) Technical Requirements specification is gathering momentum with manufacturers and utilities. Serving as a resource for utilities in designing rebate programs for networked layers of lighting control, the NLC spec outlines the most basic requirements for an effective system and reports optional capabilities. In designing their programs, utilities can call out individual optional capabilities as requirements; several plan to focus on luminaire-level, integrated controls.

The spec was released just a year ago, and the NLC Qualified Products List (QPL) includes 18 commercially available systems from 15 companies. “The qualified systems range from several simplified networked systems appropriate for less-sophisticated customers/applications, all the way to comprehensive systems designed for large enterprise applications with capabilities that go far beyond lighting,” wrote Gabe Arnold, DLC technical director. “We have 10 utilities that have launched, or will launch, new networked lighting controls programs/rebates in the first half of 2017, and another 15 that are currently working on developing new programs. We expect many more in years to follow.”

For the Dell Children's Medical Center of Central Texas, Acuity Brands Inc. provided LED troffers with luminaire-level integrated controls.
For the Dell Children’s Medical Center of Central Texas, Acuity Brands Inc. provided LED troffers with luminaire-level integrated controls. This controls systems is now one of 16 listed on the DesignLights Consortium’s Networked Lighting Controls Qualified Products List.

The most significant addition to the proposed V2.0 NLC spec is the addition of exterior lighting controls. The current draft’s minimum requirements for networked operation and controls capabilities are the same as for indoor systems, with a timeclock requirement added.

Smoothing the path

Focusing on products outside the scope of Energy Star, DLC is a consortium of utilities and allied organizations from across North America. Working with policymakers and stakeholders, DLC promotes LED technology by setting consensus LED product specifications, including testing regimens; maintaining the listing database; and administering random verification testing. DLC is credited with smoothing the entry of LED lighting in the commercial market and propelling the testing standards that are supporting the adoption of LED technology.

DLC has the same goals for networked lighting controls. “The market’s very confused,” said Arnold. “We’re starting to see the standards development organizations developing standards, and they’re looking to DLC to require or encourage use of the standards once they are complete” He cites, specifically, movement toward standardization of communication protocols, energy monitoring and luminaire response to dimming signals. The DLC currently lists two representatives from lighting controls manufacturers among the members of its 2016-17 Industry Advisory Committee: Robert Hick, Leviton Manufacturing, and Pekka Hakkarainen, Lutron.

The required capabilities in the current draft of NLC V2.0 are

  • networking of luminaires and devices
  • individual luminaire and device addressability
  • programmable zoning
  • occupancy/traffic sensing
  • daylight harvesting/photocell control
  • high-end trim (task tuning)
  • continuous dimming
  • scheduling (exterior lighting controls only)

To ensure quality and persistent energy savings, products must carry a 5 year warranty. See the current spec.

Reported, optional capabilities or characteristics for interior networked lighting controls include integrated luminaire-level controls, color tuning (new), emergency lighting, security (new), and demand response, among others. Communication capabilities such as an HVAC or BMS interface or an API could be of interest to utilities seeking to verify energy savings or provide a savings-as-a-service business model. Another newly added characteristic is the “required level of training” needed to commission the system.

Acuity’s DLC-listed wireless control system comprises control-enabled LED luminaires, wireless battery-powered wall switches and a mobile configuration app.
Acuity’s DLC-listed wireless control system comprises control-enabled LED luminaires, wireless battery-powered wall switches and a mobile configuration app. Utility rebate programs focus primarily on retrofits, which are far less expensive using wireless vs wired controls.

“In developing the specification, we really tried to develop it in a way that was flexible; meaning that it didn’t specify a very specific architecture of system. This is a technology that is developing very fast,” said Arnold, citing a lack of standardization and a lack of data on real-world energy savings. “There’s a tremendous amount of innovation occurring, and a lot more that is yet to occur.”

Luminaire-level controls

One of the goals of the NLC spec is to help utilities seeking to simplify rebate programs, making it easier to scale up their incentive programs for networked lighting controls. According to Chris Wolgamott, senior lighting product manager, the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance is working with its constituent utilities to develop rebate programs that use the DLC spec but additionally require reported capabilities. Their focus is on luminaire-level controls; that is, the capability to have a photocell and occupancy sensor installed in each luminaire.

The DLC-listed lighting control system from Ideal Industries lists 10 out of 10 optional capabilities.
The DLC-listed lighting control system from Ideal Industries lists 10 out of 10 optional capabilities (spec V1.02).

Most utilities include advanced lighting controls incentives in their custom programs. These labor-intensive programs often require custom calculations and verification of actual savings. Moving to a prescriptive (per-unit or per-kWh) incentive can save work and still achieve significant energy savings through volume business implemented across multiple utilities’ service territories. “We’re going to have some that are really good numbers and some that might be not-so-good numbers. But in the end we’re going to meet in the middle, and that middle number we’re willing to pay on. That makes it easier for them: less touch, less cost to them as a utility. But it’s also less work for the contractor and the owners, as well,” said Wolgamott.

NEEA is also leveraging an associated NLC reported characteristic: distributed intelligence, now called control persistence. Basically, if the fixture loses connectivity to the network, it will still respond to its onboard sensors and execute preprogrammed energy-saving activities.

The DOE reports that the installed stock of LEDs in commercial lighting will reach 30 percent as soon as 2020, but lighting controls lag behind. “The utilities are seeing less than 1% of the commercial lighting projects that come through their programs are incorporating advanced controls or networked controls,” said Arnold. “They’ve got a lot of customers that are having tremendous success in installing LED lights, but they are missing out on the controls savings. It’s a lost opportunity for utilities to meet their energy-savings goals that have been placed on them by the regulators.” A conversion to LED is the most opportune time to include lighting controls, as the contractor is already up on the ladder or lift. Because LEDs are highly efficient, adding controls at a later date may not show a convincing payback.

“I would say where we’re trying to get to is a point where utilities actually require customers to install these controls in order to access any rebates,” Arnold said.


Author’s note: V2.0 of the Networked Lighting Controls spec is now available. The changes described above are consistent with the final draft, including the addition of specifications for exterior lighting controls.

Lois I. Hutchinson

About Lois I. Hutchinson

Lois I. Hutchinson is a freelance writer specializing in lighting and energy issues. She is also the content marketing mastermind behind Inverse Square LLC, a Los Angeles–based consultancy. Contact her via [email protected] with your comments and any article ideas that concern the lighting community here in the Southwest.

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