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The commercial building sector is disrupting the lighting industry

Moving beyond energy savings and building codes for the adoption of "human-centric" lighting controls.

Lighting controls for commercial buildings are not a new concept. From manual switches to scheduling to occupancy sensors to daylighting, the ability to manage the energy and comfort associated with lighting in the commercial market continues to gain momentum. Beyond individual controls, networked lighting control systems are also on the rise, increasing penetration of all lighting controls. According to Navigant Research’s Market Data: Intelligent Lighting Controls report, revenue from networked lighting control systems across all commercial building types globally is expected to grow at a 14.3 percent compound annual growth rate between 2017 and 2026. 

Traditional drivers 

The adoption of LEDs in the commercial building sector and a desire to save energy have helped push the increase in lighting controls. Although reducing energy use is still a primary driver for the adoption of lighting controls, building energy codes are beginning to increase adoption by requiring more advanced controls strategies in more commercial spaces.

In the United States, codes such as California’s Title 24 Energy Efficiency Standards have requirements for occupancy sensors and photosensors as well as mandatory multi-feature controls. These multi-feature controls, which are increasing in popularity, allow a light to turn on automatically via the occupancy sensor when a person enters a room but also can dim the lights through a photosensor due to natural daylight levels.

The adoption of LEDs in the commercial building sector and a desire to save energy have helped push the increase in lighting controls.

Other codes, such as the International Energy Conservation Code, are used as a model and template for energy codes in the United States as well as in some other countries. ASHRAE 90.1, the energy standard for buildings, also helps increase the adoption of lighting controls. In addition to required codes, multiple optional controls can assist building owners and managers in reaching the required energy savings, such as daylight dimming and institutional tuning to reduce the maximum power output through lighting controls.

Shifting motivation for adoption 

Over the past couple of years, a concept of a company’s annual square footage (SF) costs has emerged where rent is an order of magnitude larger than the cost of utilities in a commercial building, and the cost of payroll is an order of magnitude more than the cost of rent. Real estate investment management company JLL describes this as the 3-30-300 rule, with utilities costing $3 per SF, rent costing $30 per SF, and payroll costing $300 per SF. While these numbers aren’t set in stone, they help put a company’s occupancy cost distribution into perspective. This rule can help companies see how cutting costs across these three areas can affect overall spending. For example, if a company can cut costs across each category by 10 percent, it will save 30 cents in utility costs, $3 in rent and $30 in payroll per SF.

Human-centric lighting

The need to meet building codes and the desire to reduce energy consumption will continue to be primary drivers in the adoption of lighting controls for commercial buildings. However, given the 3-30-300 rule discussed above, it is no wonder there is a shift from a sole focus on reducing energy consumption toward the health and well-being of building occupants and employees. Human-centric lighting could change the conversation from mitigating the bad to increasing the good. 

Rather than doing the same thing more efficiently, human-centric lighting can help increase revenue instead of just decreasing costs. Human-centric lighting — such as the design and tuning of LEDs to improve human health, well-being, and productivity and performance — is a global, growing trend. This eventual shift toward human-centric lighting can be seen in the chart below. Just as people prefer different temperatures, they also prefer different light levels, and these can vary based on each specific task and location. Human-centric lighting provides an overall improved quality of life as well as helping businesses reduce spending through an increase in productivity among employees.

The need to meet building codes and the desire to reduce energy consumption will continue to be primary drivers in the adoption of lighting controls for commercial buildings.

Many lighting companies offer human-centric lighting solutions, as research has shown that high levels of light during the day can help regulate natural circadian rhythms. High levels of natural light can help increase sleep in patients and help increase productivity in hospital staff. This is also true of offices, where lighting can mimic natural daylight or adjust to lower light levels when natural daylight is present. Using the full light spectrum through LEDs and lighting controls can help increase productivity and focus in the workplace, and companies are slowly understanding the importance of this in order to help retain talent and increase productivity (and therefore revenue). 

Human-centric lighting is made possible through lighting controls that allow lights to adjust their brightness, color temperature or colors. The sensors that allow for human-centric lighting are used in commercial light control systems today, such as occupancy/vacancy sensors and daylighting sensors. Currently, there is still a focus on reducing energy consumption, which is provided through a switch to LEDs and lighting controls and more toward a shift of networked lighting controls that yield greater energy savings than standalone controls.

However, the daylighting sensors that can reduce light levels due to natural daylight in order to save energy consumption also can work in conjunction with human-centric lighting systems to help mimic the natural light progression of daylight. Additionally, sensors can adjust the light levels and color temperature for different tasks.

While interest in lighting controls has shifted toward human-centric lighting, its impact on the adoption of lighting controls remains limited. Additional research and education are still needed to help push human-centric lighting and position it as a continually increasing driver of lighting controls in the commercial sector. In general, lighting controls are continuing to see growing adoption in the commercial sector through the desire to decrease energy consumption, the need to comply with building codes and a hope to improve productivity and the health and well-being of occupants.

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