From 2008 to 2016 the Next Generation Luminaires Solid State Lighting Design Competition focused on quality and design in specification-grade LED luminaires, recognizing improvements through successive generations of the technology. A fresh foray into lighting controls – integrating luminaires, sensors, and software to monitor and control operation – is evaluating the industry’s early offerings of connected lighting. To provide insight into different systems’ capabilities, configurations, and reliability, NGL morphed into the Next Generation Lighting Systems (NGLS) Competition in 2017.

“Specifiers were telling us that they just weren’t sure how to spec them and how they were performing, and what they needed to understand about them. We felt like what we could bring to the game with just the luminaires – that had kind of run its course. It was time to shift focus,” said Ruth Taylor, senior project manager on the Advanced Lighting Team at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, the program’s project leader. The goal is to facilitate deployment of these energy-efficient systems and to help contractors, specifiers, and lighting manufacturers with IoT/smart lighting departments work together.

Beginning with a dozen “easy-to-install” systems, the first rounds of installations and evaluations are already bearing fruit. Mary Matteson Bryan, a Bay-Area energy engineer and independent consultant, said, “Already, just from having the manufacturers participate and [observe] during the installations, we have, according to the manufacturers, had a direct impact on improvements to their products.”

She added that “things were not as easy as manufacturers may have believed and/or promoted. There were challenges throughout the process, from the communication between the person specifying the system to the person providing the system to the installers. There were challenges with lack of information being available on-site. There were challenges with the various configuration tools.”

The competition is, actually, no longer a competition with announced winners, Matteson Bryan explained. “The intent was to provide evaluations of various aspects of each easy-to-install-and-configure system and share what we learned broadly with the manufacturers and with others, so that all systems can improve and gain from the lessons [learned]. Basically, to benefit progress in the lighting controls business, broadly, so that these systems can be used effectively and frequently.”

Manufacturers are receiving objective, actionable feedback on a real-world installation: a “living lab” at the Parsons School of Design at the New School in New York City. These connected lighting systems, submitted voluntarily, are marketed as easy-to-install, intended for contractor set up and configuration without prior training or on-site support from manufacturers. Minimal functionalities include occupancy/vacancy sensing, local on-off, manual continuous dimming, daylight harvesting, high-end trim, zoning and field-adjustable control settings.

There was some swearing

The NGLS team acted as the specifier. Even so, communication was a primary stumbling block throughout the process, exacerbated by a lack of standard approaches to systems design.

From specifier to manufacturer to installer to occupant, the design intent of a connected lighting control systems can be difficult to express and maintain. Taylor pointed out a communication issue that occurred within manufacturers: “With these connected systems you’ve got all these IT engineers that are product engineers, and they’re talking a different language.” A specification that passes through several departments may be misinterpreted. “By the time it got to the end, it did not look like what we asked them to do. Like the telephone game.”

She added that it’s important for both lighting specifiers to learn IT, and for IT persons to learn the lighting business.

Each contractor installed only two different systems, to avoid an iterative bias. “It was very challenging for the installers to absorb all the various methods that the manufacturers took,” said Matteson Bryan. “It provided challenges because everybody has to learn something new, including a specifier or an installer or a user.” Each manufacturer has great faith in their own technology and approach, and market forces will sort the wheat from the chaff.

Technician reading manual

Some of the manufacturers have traditionally provided training or had a field technician on-hand for installation or commissioning. “But we really were trying to look at the worst-case scenario. If these systems are really going to be implemented on a wide scale, there’s no way manufacturers are going to have a rep at every single installation,” explained Taylor. “We did understand that this was a tough case, but it really enabled lessons to be learned.”

Matteson commented on the types of documentation provided by manufacturers to installers. “The clarity and usefulness of the documentation varied widely. Sometimes they were just lots of text, small fonts, hard to use and not particularly friendly. Other times, manufacturers provided documents that were much more graphical with screenshots, sketches and diagrams – installers definitely found those types of documents easier to use.”

NGLS installer looking at video

Where installers had a question, they Googled it. “When manufacturers provided video clips and video instructions or a video that gave an overview of the system, [contractors] found those very useful,” Matteson Bryan said. Even a simple luminaire retrofit process was facilitated by one manufacturer’s YouTube channel.

Several systems used an app as their configuration tool. Specifically, one app included a system-overview video plus a high-level, step-by-step installation review. In addition to detailed instructions within the app, links led to the manufacturer’s site for more info.

Next Gen NGLS

“We’ve been thinking about it a lot and trying to figure out if there are particular places where some standardization or consistency or industry consensus could [facilitate successful adoption]. A rising tide lifts all boats,” said Taylor. NGLS is currently disseminating the insights from the initial connected lighting evaluations through lectures, articles and webinars. Don’t look for a 100-page report; the technology would be obsolete by the time it was released.

“I think that the expectation would be – I think it’s a reasonable one – that with better communication and documentation the success rate for installation and correct operation of these systems will be much higher.” Matteson Bryan added. “Now that we’ve shone a light on this, what can be done?”

NGLS is initiating discussions with industry partners – the International Association of Lighting Designers and the Illuminating Engineering Society – as well multiple utilities and the DesignLights Consortium. A high degree of give and take with, and support from, participating manufacturers is already taking place.

NGLS invites industry professionals at all levels to participate in ongoing post-occupancy evaluations at Parsons, and the upcoming outdoor connected lighting initiative being installed at the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute. Current manufacturers may be updating their products installed at Parsons, and new manufacturers are invited to submit. Future “competitions” will include more complex connected systems plus color-tuning features. Real-world experience with connected lighting is valuable to the effort, as well as participation in working groups that can develop consensus recommendations, specification templates and industry standards. Contact

NGLS team
NGLS team leaders served as specifiers and observed the installation at Parsons. Mary Matteson Bryan (center) and Ruth Taylor (right) invite lighting professionals at all levels to participate in the reimagined program.
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 with your comments and any article ideas that concern the lighting community here in the Southwest.

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