November 24, 2021   

Connected Lighting: The Decision-Making Process

2021 11 connected lighting decision processes.jpg

Author:  Craig DiLouie, LC, CLCP is education director for the Lighting Controls Association


Adoption of the most robust connected lighting systems has been slower than expected. Perceived complexity, lack of perceived value among end-users, and concerns about interoperability act as inhibitors. Training, education, field validation, greater interoperability, and greater standardization of utility rebate programs are strong opportunities to meet these challenges.

These are some of the conclusions of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Connected Lighting Systems Stakeholders Research Study, published in September 2021. The study’s objective was to capture how users and stakeholders engage with connected lighting systems and make decisions during each step of the supply chain process from manufacturing to operation at the point of use in U.S. commercial buildings. Thirty interviews were conducted among researchers, designers, manufacturers and reps, utilities, system operators, and contractors.

The nearly 60-page document defines the project process and roles in the supply chain delivering a finished connected lighting solution. It covers manufacturing and design, value engineering, bidding and purchasing, installation, commissioning, and operation and repairs. Finally, the study identifies key challenges and opportunities for the category moving forward. The appendices provide topline summaries and the interview questions asked of stakeholders.

Supply chain roles

Common stakeholders in the connected lighting system project process and supply chain include the manufacturer, building owner, sales rep, electrical engineer, lighting designer, architect, electrical contractor, general contractor, occupants, building operator, and construction manager.

Depending on the project, a third-party commissioning agent may be involved. A key additional player in projects involving more complex lighting control systems is an integrator, an expert in ensuring lighting control and building systems properly integrate.

These professions come together in the supply chain shown below:

Image courtesy of the Department of Energy. CLS = connected lighting system.


Key findings

The connected lighting system project process and supply chain is highly detailed. Aside from the potential addition of an integrator and commissioning party, it is not very different from the typical lighting supply chain for new construction, making this challenge hardly unique to connected lighting. Due to its relative complexity, however, good communication is essential across the various roles involved in the project process. An effective control narrative is critical.

The building owner may not understand or value the benefits of connected lighting to justify the expense or risk. Many building owners want a simple “set it and forget it” lighting system, resulting in resistance to more robust features such as centralized programmability and data collection. This is not unlike adoption of lighting with high-quality features such as high-end optics.

The lighting industry should enhance the business case for connected lighting. DOE recommends the lighting industry analyze and quantify energy savings, the value of non-energy benefits, and the benefits of integration with other building systems, looking at more building types/sizes and with longer-term monitoring. Educational materials can simply outline a strongly supported value proposition and make owners aware of the greater reliability and lower cost of the latest systems. Additionally, DOE sees an opportunity for manufacturers to increase customer feedback and share lessons learned back to the supply chain.

A lack of standardization makes specifying systems with different manufacturers difficult, substitutions of control components or systems risky, and building a three-name spec difficult as control systems can be distinct. DOE sees an opportunity for interoperability standards for both connected lighting products and integrating with building automation systems. Additionally, DOE recommends standardization of utility incentives, industry terminology, and system user interfaces.

Contractors may need more help with installation, wiring, and startup. Additionally, some contractors may have a negative impression of connected lighting systems based on experience with first-generation products that have since improved, resulting in misconceptions regarding cost, complexity, and installation. In an industry driven by relationships and familiarity, new and advanced products and systems face a barrier to adoption in the market. DOE recommends reading installation materials in advance to ensure they are clear, pre-installation meetings to reduce installation and configuration errors, better and more frequent communication among the construction team, and more visual instructions with diagrams and videos. Additionally, DOE recommends manufacturers make configuration tools more intuitive and continue development of self-commissioning connected lighting systems.

Summary of key opportunities related to specific stakeholders.


Ways forward

The Lighting Controls Association’s take:

The networked lighting control revolution is similar to the LED revolution. The market is in a phase where products and benefits are developing, requiring education and a disciplined approach to design and installation.

The supply chain is far more familiar than different to lighting professionals. The supply chain is the same as with any lighting project, only it may also involve the building owner’s IT department, which will impose some requirements for the proposed system; an integrator, who can help make sure all lighting control and building systems can talk to each other; and a low-voltage contractor.

Not all networked lighting control systems are equal. As DOE points out, many solutions are distinct, but this is an advantage. The specifier has a choice of luminaire-, room-, or building-/campus-level systems, each offering a distinct value proposition, cost level, and requirements. Designers should familiarize themselves with these systems to have the right expectations going into the project.

Networked lighting control systems can be quite simple to install. Plug and play with pre-configured energy code-compliant sequences of operation simplify installation. As with any lighting project, more robust features and customization add complexity. Either way, the project team should work with installers that understand the specified system.

Have conversations early on with the building owner and IT department. Talk to the building owner about what various types of networked lighting control systems can do so they gain the appropriate system and understand what’s involved with it, notably relative cost. Talk to the IT department to determine what the owner’s requirements are regarding networking, such as cybersecurity.

Take a disciplined approach to design with networked controls. More complex (more customized) networked lighting control systems require a disciplined approach adhering to project best practices. This may involve more communication across the project team, diligence in selecting the right contractor and possibly an integrator, and engaging the owner’s IT department. The owner should be engaged to produce an Owner Project Requirements, resulting in a Basis of Design—a clear, written lighting controls narrative describing the desired control functionality that functions as a controls roadmap for the entire project team.

Get educated. Networked lighting control solutions offer a spectrum of customization, connectivity, benefits, and complexity and cost. Get familiar with these systems, what they offer in terms of owner value, and what’s involved to have the right expectations when specifying and installing them.

Manufacturers are here to help. When any building system reaches a customization level, it naturally becomes more complex. Any lighting control system, networked or not, also features devices that must be applied to applications that may themselves be distinct. Manufacturers offer support to designers, installers, and owners/operators.


Adoption snapshot

Over the past 20 years, the general trend in lighting control has been toward greater sophistication and abilities coinciding with more detailed control requirements imposed by energy codes. In the last decade, the technology underwent a revolution as extraordinary as the shift from traditional to LED lighting. The ultimate is a system that enables centralized programmability, means to improve occupant wellbeing, data that can be used to improve operations, and location-based services. The most robust systems naturally present a cost premium and are more complex than more out-of-the-box connected systems.

Connected Lighting Systems Stakeholders Research Study provides an interesting snapshot across a broad spectrum of stakeholders as to common challenges in adopting connected lighting, along with opportunities to address them. Key opportunities are in technological validation, education, clear communication, enhanced tools, and acceleration toward standardization and ease of use.


Check out the complete study »


The Lighting Controls Association is a council of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association that provides education about lighting control technology and application, including articles, videos, design awards, news, resources, and Education Express, a free, 24/7 series of online courses covering everything from technology to design to commissioning.


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