What is the Role of Smart Lighting within Commercial Buildings?

Smart lighting

The future of buildings and cities are going to be smart and connected spaces, so what is the role of smart lighting within commercial buildings?

Previously we always talked about intelligent buildings, but that is now moving towards smart buildings, intelligent buildings we more the on-prem solution where things were provided in silos eg; lighting, fire, security, etc. But smart buildings are about integration, not just on-site through IoT but also in the cloud. The data available is now providing lots of services that previously were not able to exist.

Data provided allows for preventative maintenance which now permits users to identify a problem ahead of time and a person can be on their way to the site with the correct part before a problem even occurs.

Data unlocks the power to offer services that have always been there, but their full potential failed to be utilised due to the inaccessibility of data and the inability to quickly and easily view it and interact with it. Asset utilisation, space utilisation, energy, HVAC, security, air quality, etc. can be converged off-site and into a platform whereby people can actually use it.

I think the situation we have been forced through in 2020 has accelerated the growth of smart buildings. COVID-19 has caused more of a hybrid working situation and many people may not return to the office, or if they do it will be for different reasons. Offices were always 40% empty before because of movement of staff but now we will see more people working from home and people reducing their office space. Office space will now become a buyer’s opportunity, they can have touchless lifts and voice commands etc.

It has also accelerated the engagement of the major IT companies, so we’re seeing Microsoft, Amazon, and Google actively getting engaged now with buildings and I think a lot of that is down to the different demands within our buildings now. People are expecting a better wellbeing lifestyle i.e., no fluorescent lights or poor air quality. I expect people will move buildings in the next few years as people assess their space utilisation and perhaps downside or look for alternative solutions that suit their staff more. One of the most important things I think people will begin to harness further is lighting.

Lighting has always been there, but it has always been controlled by the building automation system and used very simplistically, it was more of an on/off, presence detection sensor solution. It is so much more than that now. The connected solution between all on-site requirements is now brought together as part of the IoT and the data taken off-site e.g., building automation, fire and safety and security, etc. can all be managed off-site.

Lighting is able to significantly improve people’s wellbeing – the temperature of the lighting can change throughout the day to affect people’s mood, the way they are working e.g., productivity, and I have just read an article from a company in the US who is specifying this kind of solution and they are saying that people are no longer getting the ‘2 pm headache’ – which traditionally arises from poor air quality and bad lighting, causing people to feel lethargic and unwell by the end of the day. Lighting has really begun to change people’s environments. As the demands are being met by the customers it is going to cause real-estate companies to upgrade their sites so that the incoming customer can have a smarter building that is connected, sustainable, safe, secure and affordable…but wellbeing is such an important thing for them now because one of the most expensive items for any company is its staff, retaining staff is so important and lighting has a huge part to play in that.

It is a great opportunity moving forward to evolve and we’ll see the repurposing of buildings and ultimately smarter cities.

Buildings can become ‘smarter’ through various technologies including temperature sensors, humidity sensors, security cameras on the door, etc., but lighting is ubiquitous, its everywhere so the opportunity for connectivity through lighting is an obvious way. It has not come as quickly as people thought and the concept of LiFi is still being worked on but if you can imagine that could be the way you connect to the cloud; it would really be a significant step up.

Roger Woodward
Roger Woodward

Today, the light itself can be made smart which is opening up even more opportunities for use in homes and further improving people’s lifestyles. We have also seen smart lighting used in retail to monitor people movement and see how long people spend lingering in certain areas or looking at certain products and we also see space utilisation being a core requirement for buildings going forward.

Lighting is very much a solution that embraces so many things such as wellbeing and health, it allows people to sleep better and feel better when lighting is addressed properly.

Every building that is considered now always uses the term ‘open’, it is essential that smart lighting control platforms are open, interoperable, and protocol agnostic if you have something that is quite closed and traditional it is going to limit the capabilities of that buildings. For Building automation systems, it has taken many years for them to address that. The change is happening now. Who would have thought we would have seen the demise of the big lighting companies such as Philips and GE and the engagement of the big IT companies such as Google?

Commercial real estate is such a huge part of the world’s assets and economies, lighting becomes such a significant part of the solution, and being ‘open’ is really important for that collaboration.

It has become the age for smart lighting!

Roger Woodward is a smart buildings consultant. 

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