LED lighting control systems

Led lighting controls for your fixturesATG is often asked: Do you have LED lighting controls for your fixtures? The answer, of course, is yes, however, there is a lot more to understand with such a simple reply. I will start with the easiest and lowest cost approach, move on to the most expensive and complex approach, and end with what ATG believes is the sweet spot for LED lighting controls.

Stand-alone LED lighting control options:

In many installations all the customer wants to do is control the functionality of one fixture. Our industry has been addressing this with the following devices. This is by far the lowest cost approach to controlling an LED fixture. If you have been in the lighting industry for any length of time, you will already be familiar with these.

Indoor LED lighting controls

Motion Sensors and Daylight Harvesting:

For indoor fixtures, many years ago, these sensors were based on Passive Infrared (PIR) technology, visible on the fixture itself, and simply turned the fixture on and off based on someone entering or leaving a room. They could be set to “Occupancy” which means the fixture turns on automatically when someone enters a room, but then they must manually turn of the fixture at the wall switch. Or they could be set to “Vacancy” which means a person turns on the fixture manually at a wall switch, but then the fixture turns off after the person leaves the room.  

Later, through dip switch settings, the fixture could also be set to discrete dimming settings. For example, when someone entered a room, the light could be set to come on at 100%, then, when a person left the room, the fixture could be dimmed down to say 10%.

Today, most of these sensors use microwave technology. This is much more sensitive and powerful. It allows the sensor to be installed behind the lens of the fixture because it can “see” through the lens. It also allows for higher mounting heights.

Additionally, these sensors have daylight harvesting capability. This helps answer the question: if there is enough ambient light coming into a room through the windows or a skylight, why do I need to turn the lights on? Take a school classroom for example. Typically, one wall is full of windows. We can now program the sensor to turn off the fixtures nearest to the windows, dim the fixtures the next row over, and keep the other fixtures in the remaining rows on at 100%. These new, motion/daylight harvesting sensors are now programmed with a handheld remote control significantly minimizing the time it takes to program the sensor and thus reduce labor cost.

Outdoor LED lighting controls:

Photocell and Motion Sensors:

Automatic lighting, such as streetlights, often uses photocell sensors (also known as photoeyes) to sense how much ambient light there is. Once the photocell detects low enough light levels, the light turns on or conversely, rising external light levels will turn the light off. With no user input required, there is no concern about setting timers or forgetting to turn the lights on. The photocell acts like how a light switch would—as such, photocell sensors are also sometimes called photoelectric switches. Photocells work all year round, activating at dusk and turning off at dawn, even when the days are longer in summer or shorter in winter. As they sense the amount of light rather than operating at a set time, they do not need to be adjusted when sunrise or sunset shifts with the seasons. Motion sensors, as described earlier, serve a different purpose because they are designed to sense occupancy or vacancy in a space. A good example would be area light fixtures lighting a parking lot. When the lights are on, the owner may only want to illuminate the parking lot at 30% for public safety. However, when a car enters the parking lot, the sensors can be programmed to set the light level to 100% and, after a time of inactivity, the light levels can go back down to 30%.

Common problems with whole-building lighting and why integrated controls are the right solution

How many times have you driven by a 20-story building at 11:00 PM and notice that all the lights were on? This is an excessively big and complex topic. Many commercial buildings waste energy for two main reasons. First, because they are simply over lighted. Second, because the light levels are set to inappropriate levels for a space when in use or even when not in use.

In addition to wasting energy, many buildings consume more energy than they should by allowing heat gain or loss from its windows which creates higher demand for their HVAC system. These buildings also consume more energy than they should because they are not “smart enough” to take advantage of demand response and load shedding. This is simply the ability to instantly reduce energy consumption when desired, typically initiated by a signal or phone call from the utility company.

“Smart” whole-building controls shed a percentage of the building’s lighting during peak demand. This creates instant energy savings leading to reduced electricity rates and increased rebates from the utility company.

These systems typically have the following characteristics.

  • Wired and wireless components

This differs from manufacturer to manufacturer, and it is too much to cover in this post, but we’ll post a follow up blog post soon to expand on this. Typically, the wired components are strait forward. When it comes to wireless components, some manufacturers have a proprietary solution while others rely on open solutions like Zigbee.

  • Centralized control:

Facility managers can interface with the system from their laptop or even a smart phone. They can control, modify, monitor, and report on the building’s lighting maximizing energy efficiency, overall comfort, and productivity for the people in the building.

  • Scheduling:

This is the same concept as we discussed earlier about motion sensors and photocells. Facility managers can schedule events to happen automatically throughout a building without the actions of a person in the building. This is often done using “time clocks” to trigger what happens at a certain time of day.

  • Monitoring and IoT:

Facility managers can capture information reported back from different elements of the control system. This allows them to run reports to analyze overall activity, energy usage, etc. to help maximize energy savings. All of this leads us to a discussion of IoT (Internet of Things). According to Wikipedia, IoT is defined as “a system of interrelated computing devices, mechanical and digital machines provided with unique identifiers and the ability to transfer data over a network without requiring human-to-human or human-to-computer interaction.” Whole building controls are taking advantage of this and are becoming ‘smarter’ every day.

Additional considerations for whole-building LED lighting controls

While whole-building controls are useful in many applications, we need to understand a few things. First, installers or integrators must go through extensive training to learn how to install and commission these systems. This generally requires expertise in electrical design and installation, IT, and much more. Second, these systems can be extremely expensive. The costs scale down as the size of the building scales up, but, for smaller buildings, the cost may simply be too high, and the system functionality may be more than what is really needed.

The LED lighting controls “sweet spot” for ATG

No doubt you have heard of the “KISS” method: keep it simple stupid! This is our approach to automated controls at ATG. Do we offer stand-alone motion sensors, daylight harvesting sensors and photocells? Of course. Do we want to offer whole-building integrated controls? Yes, however, it is not what you are thinking. We will leave it to others to control lighting throughout the Empire State Building, the Willis Tower, and the like. We are targeting schools, hospitals, industrial park buildings, warehouses, etc. These buildings are within the reach of our customers who currently buy our LED fixtures.

We will soon be launching a controls platform with the following characteristics.

  • Wireless Protocol:

Professional Grade, Bluetooth Mesh. According to Wikipedia, this is defined as “a computer mesh networking standard based on Bluetooth Low Energy that allows for many-to-many communication over Bluetooth radio. The Bluetooth Mesh specifications were defined in the Mesh Profile and Mesh Model specifications by the Bluetooth Special Interest Group. The physical range is from 100 – 1,000 meters depending on mesh relaying configuration.” In layman’s terms devices connect to each other, and pass signals to peers that are within range, forming a web, or mesh, of interconnected devices capable of relaying data.

This means that information is passed from one device to another, and another, and so on eliminating dead zones. The diagram below illustrates this where Bluetooth nodes are installed into fixtures located in two rooms all of which are being controlled by a wall control.

Wall Lighting Control


Orders of magnitude less expensive than whole building control systems. These systems require a centralize controller or “brain,” and these can cost thousands and thousands of dollars before the first fixture is even fired up. Additionally, the component cost can be extremely high given their “smart” capabilities. And the installation and programming costs can be extremely high given the sophistication of the system. Finally, it can take weeks to fully complete a system like this. Time is money.

So, for smaller installations like those described in the opening paragraph of this section, the barrier to entry (cost) is often too high for the customer to swallow.

  • Components:
    • Various motion sensors (microwave & PIR)
    • Daylight Harvesting sensors
    • Photocells
    • Power Packs
    • Dimmers (including built in motion sensor)
    • And more on the way!
  • Programming:

You are going to love this. Programming is done on a PC, tablet, or smart phone. Training can be accomplished in under an hour. The whole idea behind this is to make programming so easy that installers can be comfortable with the system after only one or two jobs.

  • Scalability & IoT:

The basic system detailed above is suitable for controlling lights in one room, multiple rooms, and multiple floors of a building. The system capability can be expanded by adding a low-cost gateway. This will enable energy monitoring (calculated and measured), occupancy monitoring and remote system monitoring. Let us call it a whole building control system – lite. Stay tuned for more updates from ATG!

LED lighting controls and utility rebates: the dynamic duo

The topic of controls would be incomplete if we did not discuss Utility Rebates! We already know that most utility companies in North America offer substantial rebates for LED fixtures. In fact, over the past few years, many utility companies provide higher rebates when a fixture includes a control component of some kind. In some cases, the rebate dollars can pay for greater than half of the installed cost of the entire project. Please educate yourself on the utility rebates in your area and take advantage of them. If you do not, you are literally leaving money on the table!

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