Power over Ethernet (PoE) could disrupt the lighting industry more than the LED ever has. By powering lighting with Ethernet switches and inexpensive Cat 5 or 6 cable, instead of hazardous 120V electrical systems, PoE threatens to move lighting from the electrician’s realm into IT. Lighting is everywhere in a building, and major IT players are poised to exploit the lighting layout and collect information for multiple building systems onto a single IP network. Beyond sensors and switches informing a standalone lighting control system, a network of security, phone, and other building systems coordinate to make buildings truly connected. PoE lighting can leverage investments in IT infrastructure and deliver greater energy efficiency, particularly in HVAC, plus a more personalized experience for the occupant.

By connecting the Internet of Things (IoT) on a hardwired, intelligent platform, PoE powers, controls and receives data back from devices and sensors throughout the building. This highly granular data on ambient conditions and occupant behavior provide insight for improved building management, maintenance and usage. Hyperconnected people and systems can enable personalized environments, including circadian lighting control schemes, to enhance comfort, productivity and safety.

Philips The Edge example of PoE Lighting
The Edge, in Amsterdam, is the result of a partnership between OVG Real Estate, Philips and the main tenant, Deloitte. PoE lighting throughout the building provides facility managers with an integrated view of the building’s occupancy patterns and energy usage. Via an app on their smartphones, employees can adjust the temperature and the brightness of the light above their desk, supporting workplace productivity.

The building telephone and security industries have already weathered the transition to PoE. And like most modern devices, LEDs are inherently dc, so installation is greatly simplified by eliminating the separate power and control wiring. Analyzing ROI, Philips claims that PoE lighting achieves an 87.5 percent reduction in connections to mains power. Cabling company Siemon estimates a 75 percent reduction in connection costs, plus 20 to 25 percent energy savings achieved by converting ac to dc power at the panel rather than at individual powered devices (PDs). Without line-voltage connections, light fixtures and sensors can be more easily added, reconfigured and upgraded. Some recommend leaving a quarter of PoE ports unused on an initial install.

Adding wattage

The IEEE 802.3af and 802.3at standards made low-power PoE devices like IP phones, Wi-Fi access points and security cameras possible. Today, more than 25W of 48V dc power brings LED lighting into the field. The upcoming approval of IEEE 802.3bt (or PoE++, expected to be ratified in 2016 or 2017) will allow up to 100W (minus losses) of plug-and-play networking without the strict conduit regulations required for line-voltage installations. IEEE 802.3bt is designed specifically for the IoT, transmitting data and power over all four pairs with a 10 Giabit Ethernet protocol (10GBASE-T).

PoE Lighting - schematic
This schematic from NuLEDs shows a UPS system backing up a complete lighting system.

The IEEE standards treat LED luminaires more like the delicate electronics they are. Power will not flow to the device until after a handshake is performed and the PD’s needs are calibrated. There is a tiny arc when PoE is physically disconnected, but overall the low voltage is much safer. If the Ethernet switch reboots, the current power continues to flow. A UPS attached to the router powers emergency lighting, so zones can be configured through the software platform; and can be dimmed to bare minimums when an extended outage is predicted.

“PoE is progressively getting cheaper, and with PoE++ you’re talking about 72 watts: that really changes things,” said Joe Williams, director for distributor sales at Versa Technology, Inc. “As the power increases and the prices go down, I think that that barrier of entry, pricing, is going to go away.” Versatek works with integrator-installers who are experienced with IT. “The electricians tend to, when they get to that communications closet, they just stop. Not that they’re stuck in their ways, it’s just something that they really haven’t had much exposure to,” Williams said. “We’ve got a couple of small regional electricians that are starting to use PoE more and more – not necessarily for lighting… That blurs the line between being an electrician and being an IT guy. For the most part, our experience with big electrical firms: [PoE lighting] is not really on their radar.”

Opening the office

In February, IT powerhouse Cisco launched the Digital Ceiling alliance, along with Philips Lighting, Cree and Eaton, among others. NuLEDs partnered with Cisco in 2012 and has numerous PoE lighting installations across the country. “It’s been a long process, but a very interesting and fun process, to watch this whole ecosystem emerge through the combination of the efficiency increases of LED lighting and the power increases of Ethernet-delivered Cat 5 cabling power,” said Lisa L. Isaacson, chief business development officer at NuLEDs. “There’s even fixtures being developed that are 200 lumens per watt. So you’re ending up with this efficiency increase in the LED lighting space that makes a compelling story. We’re at the point now where we can put two light fixtures on one Ethernet port and still control them separately through addressable channels.”

PoE Lighting - Cisco Customer Briefing Center
The Cisco Customer Briefing Center in Manhattan is illuminated with POE lighting from NuLEDs. Here, two-by-two LED troffers contain RGB ColorBeacons for visual communication.

Isaacson explained that NuLEDs often uses four-channel control of RGBW LED arrays to provide tunable white light. “We can tie in with an astronomical timeclock, so we can have an office space or a school space go through a Kelvin shift throughout the day to mimic the circadian rhythm of the outdoor daylight.”

In addition, networked PoE lighting enables

  • Demand side management/load shedding
  • Personal controls to set preferred settings, enhancing user satisfaction
  • More granular occupancy controls and daylight harvesting
  • Highly flexible scheduling
  • Positions and connections for a myriad of sensors: temperature, CO2, humidity, seismic, vacancy, methane, video, etc., etc.
  • The ability to monitor luminaires to detect outages and operational anomalies
  • Measurement and verification (M&V) of energy savings for each luminaire and sensor on the system
  • The use of colored light for wayfinding
  • The use of colored light to influence purchasing or other behavior
  • Visible light communication (VLC) for personalized communications to the occupant (uses a smart device with camera), including wayfinding
  • VLC for occupant control of the immediate environment using a smart device
  • The use of telemetry and analytics to save energy and optimize space utilization
  • Lighting as a service

“The way that building systems are constructed today, they’re silos,” Luis Suau, solutions architect/technical for Cisco Systems’s Internet of Everything Vertical Solutions Group said in a webinar. “They operate independent of each other. Through IoT and infrastructure convergence we’re able to bring all of those systems together, using the same infrastructure, which of course lowers the cost.”

PoE Lighting Carrefour VLC
Philips partnered with retailer Carrefour in Lille, France, to provide visible light communications (VLC). LED lighting transmits signals to shoppers’ smartphones to help them navigate and find promotions across the 7,800 sq m shop floor.

He describes the perfect storm of technologies enabling telecommuting, mobile devices and the empowerment of employees collaborating in small working groups. “There’s a synergy between LED lighting and digitization in buildings, and so the ability to converge building infrastructures to provide power and control via the network is really a trend that’s enabling the Digital Ceiling. And all this is now possible not only through LEDs coming into the digital ceiling, but it’ also enabled by IoT technology…. The cost of processors and communications has gotten to a level where it’s cheap enough to put into every kind of thing you can imagine.”

The resurgence of the open office approach to collaborative workspaces is taken a step further by workspaces with no assigned offices or seating, called “office hoteling.” “When [Cisco employees] badge in, then the lights come on in that office. They come on to whatever Kelvin temperature they want; they come on to whatever dim level. And once they’ve badged in they gain access to their space though their smart devices,” Isaacson said. A badge swipe can be replaced with an RFID tag or Bluetooth-equipped personal device or wearable.

“Not since Edison invented the light bulb have we had such a dramatic shift in the way we light spaces. LED was the enabler and catalyst of this shift. But switching to a low-voltage networked lighting system is so different from traditional lighting,” she added. “2016 is going to be a great year for this. It’s going to be the year of the shift, I believe.”

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 lightinginsider@exponation.net with your comments and any article ideas that concern the lighting community here in the Southwest.

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