Lighting Research Center

Advancing the effective use of light for society and the environment

Rensselaer Home Page


Four Views on Ideal Controls

Lighting Futures asked, Is there an ideal lighting system for private offices today? Is it different from the past and what does the future hold in store? What is the largest obstacle to seeing the ideal systems installed?


Wayne Morrow, facility electrical engineer for the National Center for Atmospheric Research:

There is an ideal lighting system - it's just different for every user. The ideal system is dependent upon the task and the person. It allows the user to adjust the lighting to their physiological and psychological needs - whatever they may be.

In the past, it was one size fits all. There was one level of light, that was all you got, and you were lucky to get anything. Lighting was designed from statistics for the statistical user. But none of our users have 2.5 kids. They're all individuals, and the ideal system recognizes that and allows for variations.

The ideal system in the future will allow more remote diagnostics and dispatch maintenance.

The trends are already going that way, and they will continue. Facilities will be managed from remote locations, and problems can be identified without having personnel on site. Then you send a person out who already knows what the problem is, saving two or three trips. And the person who is sent can be a specialist for that particular problem. It's much more efficient. Without remote diagnosis, it's like walking around with a blindfold.

The biggest obstacle is no longer a technical issue, it's perception. The products aren't yet mainstream, so there is a perceived risk and a limited understanding of the benefits for building managers in general. Education is the best way to overcome that. The big red herring in lighting systems is energy. Lighting systems need to be principally evaluated on their ergonomic benefits.


Maria Vargas, co-director, Energy Star and Green Lights Partnership:

The ideal system accommodates every occupant: it understands the lighting needs of the occupant, it allows the occupant to have control, and it's energy efficient. With today's technology, the office should have T8 lamps, electronic ballasts, a task light (if needed), and some control involving occupancy sensors.

There are new technologies emerging that will make that office even more comfortable. They include dimmable ballasts and manual dimming. People and organizations are looking for ways not only to cut costs but also to improve productivity. Right now, occupancy sensors and dimming are frequently cost effective and provide productivity gains. The trouble we've had to date is making the decision simple for end users. One of the biggest obstacles to increased use of lighting controls is a lack of awareness of what a good lighting upgrade can do for an organization. Decision makers are not aware of the opportunities, and they get mixed reports from industry. The industry has to be much more sophisticated and unified in how they sell these systems, and to make the process easy for people to make decisions. The decision makers need to know the economics and the other benefits of installing controls, but the economic arguments can get you only part of the way. The focus has to be on the end user. There has to be a demonstration of ancillary benefits that bolster the economics. The question is "can you actually convince decision makers to buy" and the convincing argument is going to be productivity - worker happiness and satisfaction with their environment is included in that.


Dave Peterson, manager, GE Total Lighting Controls and chairman of the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) Lighting Controls Council:

The ideal system today is on-off scheduling in open spaces and occupancy sensors in private offices, conference rooms, and rest rooms. This is driven by the economic argument that building owners and facilities managers accept today.

Tomorrow's ideal system will involve manual controls, but that won't happen until occupants' needs take precedence over a straight energy cost argument. I can't see a bunch of occupants jumping up and down and demanding a dimmer, but putting one into a space will be a 'plus' to the space. It will be perceived as a premium space, and once it's been used, it will never be removed. It's the occupant preference, not an energy payback, which will drive the introduction of tomorrow's ideal system.

From a technological standpoint, the major obstacle to overcome is the integration of these different components into standardized packages - to create systems which plug and play. It's an implementation problem. The technology exists today in each component, but not for creating integrated systems from those components.

But more important than that, there is no clear compelling and substantiated reason for the building owner to buy. There are some early adopters who have started using these systems, but there is no slam dunk argument that convinces owners who are still primarily concerned with energy savings. That doesn't mean that the reason isn't there, but you can't point to one occupant benefit and have owners all agree, 'I'll never put in a system that doesn't do that.' You can get them to agree that they should install energy-based lighting controls, but they wouldn't understand why it's important to allow individuals to dim their lights and control their own environments. They have to put occupant satisfaction over energy savings and first costs.


Jerry Mix, president of The Watt Stopper, a leading manufacturer of lighting controls:

The ideal system involves an occupancy sensor on the desktop that enables and disables lighting and other peripheral products to the preference of the user. It's all set up for the person - it's about personal control. We know (occupancy) sensors work. They are the most efficient energy-saving technology out there, but you want to give control of the space to the person using the space. By integrating a desktop sensor with dimming ballasts and building systems, you have a system that allows the user to choose the light level and select different scenes.

You want a system that's invisible to the occupant. It should just work, and it's only there when the occupant wants to make a change, otherwise it's basically invisible. With the desktop sensor, there are no more false-offs. It can't miss a person when the sensor is right at the desk. And from the desk, a sensor can turn off peripherals as well, like monitors and task lights.

The future: More and more people will be looking at the idea of improving worker productivity by giving the person control of light levels and lighting. The future is in the integration of the technologies and communicating with building systems: Active IR, scene control presets, HVAC control. The technology to do all of it is here today.The biggest obstacle is education, without a doubt. People have to be aware that there are more sophisticated systems. There is a tendency to install systems that have the lowest first cost and still meet standards or codes. People have to be educated that systems are available which provide benefits beyond the lowest cost products. Obviously they cost more, but they have benefits beyond saving energy. Once people understand the additional benefits, people will install better systems.

Back to Ideal Office Lighting

Contact Us | Privacy | © 1995-2020 Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, NY 12180 USA - All rights reserved