Smart lighting: Is it really smart enough?

Wendell Strong, GENISYS PoE Lighting Manager

It’s fun to play around with smart technology. Smart phones, apps, gaming systems, doorbells, and even light bulbs these days are all smart.  Everything seems to be getting smarter to the point of being simply a buzzword at times.

Furbo, a smart, wireless dog treat dispenser and camera. Yes, we really have seen it all.

However, is smart “smart enough” for the complex, changing world we live in? Maybe we should consider a higher benchmark, like intelligent, and what the difference is between the two in the world of lighting.

Let’s start with a simple definition that seems to fit well. Smart normally applies when a long-held level of performance has been greatly improved upon and has new capabilities as well.

Consider the evolution of the common medium screw base lamp.

Not-So-Smart Lighting
The incandescent lamp might be considered “dumb” by the definition above, but for its time, was brilliant (pun intended) being an awesome, breakthrough technology that enabled electrification to move swiftly forward due to increasing demand while rendering open flame oil lamps, gas lanterns, and candles to emergency backup light sources across time when power was down.

The compact fluorescent, or CFL, replacement wasn’t seen as smart because it failed the definition above. While lasting longer and greatly improving efficacy (lumens per watt), it lost the incredible, smooth dimming capability which the incandescent lamp became the standard.

The CFL was simply an adaption of fluorescent technology designed to displace a less efficient, shorter life light source. The fact that the CFL had to be recycled as well didn’t help its cause either. Maybe not “dumb”, but certainly not smart enough.

The standard LED lamp was a huge breakthrough technology which solved almost all the issues that the CFL had tried to address, and on proper dimmers, performed adequately. No hazardous materials requiring recycling was a huge step in the right direction as well. Smarter than the CFL, it still couldn’t match flawless dimming or be applied in all the sizes and shapes of incandescent lamps.

The creation of the wireless colored A19 LED bulb, on the other hand, was considered smart by the definition above. Color changing capabilities and dimming all the while being programmed and controlled by a “smart device”. Smart indeed, albeit basically as a fun novelty product.

If we look at the commercial lighting world, LED lighting is being deployed faster and faster, and is maturing rapidly.  Wireless controls are now seen as the “smart component” being “layered over the top” of the A/C LED lighting and is viewed as a cost-effective control solution. Often these wireless controls need additional wireless access points and many of the sensor types run on batteries. Smart enough by our simple definition.

“Good Enough” Lighting?
While definitely creating a strong advancement in energy efficiency and sustainability, perhaps we should question just how smart this really is in the long run. Or, are we just continuing down a well-established road without stopping and challenging our long-held ideas and methods?

Is this road we have been on for so long and our methods of deploying lighting now limiting our progress and possibly blinding us from recognizing a better route?

Are we content and blinded from recognizing a better route?

Has settling for “good enough” become the greatest enemy of achieving our best as an industry and the world that relies so heavily upon us to do so?

Perhaps smart is not smart enough in today’s lighting environments and we should consider an equally simple definition or illustration of intelligent by contrast.

Game-Changing Lighting
Intelligent goes well beyond simply smart by calling upon many different disciplines. Much like a scholar draws upon many different fields of study and then applies them in unique ways to create that which was not known before. In other words, “Game changing”.

Perhaps there is a new road, one that doesn’t limit our progress but delivers far more value to those we serve than we ever dreamed possible before. I would humbly suggest that road is PoE Lighting Technology.

Power over Ethernet takes lighting on a completely new road.

In fact, truly Intelligent Lighting did not really exist prior to PoE Lighting Technology. Its remarkably simple design and unique method of powering is what produces the incredible granularity and control performance exceeding that of A/C based controls.

This paradigm shift of lighting being intrinsically as part of the electrical infrastructure of buildings and now becoming part of the networked operational systems of buildings is precisely what this new road is built of.

While this combination of LED lighting and networking is a high form of Intelligent Lighting based its control capabilities, what words do we use to describe its abilities to enhances other building systems and the wellness and performance of the employees? It quite frankly redefines our expectations of a ‘lighting system’.

Intelligent Lighting
Let’s consider the intelligent aspects of PoE Lighting on a few high-level points:

Since you must run wires to power a luminaire, is there not an elegant simplicity to use those same wires to communicate and control it? Check.

Since that luminaire is a LED based light source, would it also make sense to remove the number one failure point, the A/C driver, at the same time?  And also provide the arrays precisely what they crave? Remarkably “clean” consistent low voltage DC power? Check.

Plug-and-play makes PoE lighting safe and easy.

If you could, in that process, make the power safe and utilize plug-and-play connections that prevent people from contacting live power in the first place, enabling them to reconfigure the lighting, would that not make sense as well? Check.

And, instead of layering controls over the top of that A/C powered lighting system as additional components, what if every known lighting control was built in at a DNA level providing 1% granularity of control and all connected devices are individually addressable? Check.

What if it was possible to provide up to 90% reduction* (and perhaps beyond) in operating costs (OPEX) compared to fluorescent systems of today? And the controls were highly intuitive and simple to manage? Check.

And wouldn’t it be a huge breakthrough if PoE Lighting in new builds and deep retrofits (brown walls) was the single most environmentally sustainable solution available while likely being capital expense neutral or below? Check.

So to answer the question is smart lighting really smart enough? That’s for you to decide and remember, smart lighting may or may not be smart, but PoE Lighting will always be intelligent.

* Gartner, 2012

Want to dive deeper into the world of PoE? Reserve a seat to attend a FREE webinar hosted by Innovative Lighting’s GENISYS PoE Lighting Manager on Tuesday, January 23 at 12pm CT.

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