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Troy, N.Y. -  4/20/2006

Scientists Develop Simple Alternative for Harvesting Daylight and Saving Energy

Scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Lighting Research Center (LRC) have developed a simple, cost-effective, energy-saving device designed to harvest daylight automatically. The DaySwitchTM was designed as an alternative to traditional dimming ballast systems that adjust light levels by reducing the lamp current.

“The DaySwitchTM is designed to build end-use efficiency by reducing light energy usage in commercial buildings and maintaining occupant satisfaction,” said Peter Morante, director of energy programs at the LRC. “It is estimated that the DaySwitchTM will be able to reduce lighting energy consumption by 30 percent in buildings with significant daylight contribution through windows or skylights, allowing for a payback period of approximately three years.”

Typical dimming systems have several drawbacks, including high initial cost and difficult photosensor programming and installation. As a result, dimming systems have not permeated the market, according to Morante.

The DaySwitchTM development team, led by Morante and Richard Pysar, an electronic design engineer at the LRC, created a low-cost prototype to control individual light fixtures, unlike traditional systems where one sensor controls numerous lamps. Individual control provides flexibility for on/off control and simple installation.

The DaySwitchTM works with all conventional fluorescent ballasts—the device regulating voltage and current supplied to the lamp. Because of its simple circuitry and on/off operation, the cost to produce the device is minimal and far less expensive than traditional daylighting control systems that utilize dimming ballasts, according to the LRC research team.

“The DaySwitchTM offers a low cost option for harvesting daylight that is simple, accurate, and convenient to install,” said Andrew Bierman, senior research scientist at the LRC. “By taking advantage of natural light and using systems like the DaySwitchTM, we can significantly reduce energy consumption and the growing strain on the nation’s power grid.”

The United States Department of Energy estimates that lighting accounts for one-quarter of the total energy consumed by U.S. commercial businesses.

How the DaySwitch™ works

The DaySwitchTM eliminates wasted or unwanted electric light by sensing when sufficient daylight is available to take the place of electric light, and then responds by turning off the fixture. When daylight decreases, the device turns the light back on.

A built-in microcontroller automatically calibrates the DaySwitchTM, allowing for self-commissioning and easy installation and maintenance. The design also includes a light-to-frequency photodiode that, together with the microcontroller, provides accuracy over a wide range of light levels (1 to 12,000 lux).

According to the LRC research team, commercial customers can expect a two- to five-year payback in retrofit applications and a one- to three-year payback when the DaySwitchTM is built into fixtures installed in new construction.

Project partners

The LRC recently received a $198,745 award from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to further develop, demonstrate, and evaluate the DaySwitchTM, all in an effort to commercialize the device. The LRC is partnering with Dynamic Hybrids, Inc., of Syracuse, New York, to manufacture the DaySwitchTM prototype and is currently seeking a demonstration site within New York State to install and evaluate the device.

Initial research into simple concepts for daylight harvesting was funded by the Daylight Dividends program, a national effort, administered by the LRC, to educate and provide evidence, guidance, and perspectives supporting the use of daylighting in commercial and educational facilities. Daylight Dividends sponsors include California Energy Commission, Connecticut Light and Power Company, Efficiency Vermont, Iowa Energy Center, NYSERDA, North Carolina Daylighting Consortium, Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, and the U.S. Department of Energy. The initial research results are published in Lighting Research & Technology, volume 37, issue 1.

The LRC also received a $75,000 Energy Innovations Small Grant (EISG) to develop the first DaySwitchTM prototype. EISG is a California Energy Commission Public Interest Energy Research (PIER) program designed to establish the feasibility of new, innovative energy concepts.

About the Lighting Research Center
The Lighting Research Center (LRC) at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute is the world's leading center for lighting research and education. Established in 1988 by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), the LRC conducts research in solid-state lighting, light and health, transportation lighting and safety, energy efficiency, and plant pathology. LRC lighting scientists with multidisciplinary expertise in research, technology, design, and human factors, collaborate with a global network of leading manufacturers and government agencies, developing innovative lighting solutions for projects that range from the Boeing 787 Dreamliner to U.S. Navy submarines to hospital neonatal intensive-care units. In 1990, the LRC became the first university research center to offer graduate degrees in lighting and today, offers a M.S. in lighting and a Ph.D. to educate future leaders in lighting. With 35 full-time faculty and staff, 15 graduate students, and a 30,000 sq. ft. laboratory space, the LRC is the largest university-based lighting research and education organization in the world.

About Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, founded in 1824, is America's first technological research university. The university offers bachelor's, master's, and doctoral degrees in engineering; the sciences; information technology and web sciences; architecture; management; and the arts, humanities, and social sciences. Rensselaer faculty advance research in a wide range of fields, with an emphasis on biotechnology, nanotechnology, computational science and engineering, data science, and the media arts and technology. The Institute has an established record of success in the transfer of technology from the laboratory to the marketplace, fulfilling its founding mission of applying science "to the common purposes of life."