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Lighting Controls - Rhetoric, But A Long Way To Reality

How many of us realize that commercial and residential buildings consume over 65.0 percent of the electricity produced in the country and up to 40.0 percent of this is used for lighting the built spaces alone? Not many.

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Energy is getting dearer the world over and the equation is simple: electricity conserved is money saved.

How many of us realize that commercial and residential buildings consume over 65.0 percent of the electricity produced in the country and up to 40.0 percent of this is used for lighting the built spaces alone? Not many. With lighting becoming an integral part of our lives, we may not notice the amount of energy we consume to light up the interiors. However, there is a cause for concern…

Turning Off Those Lights!

Beyond squeezing every watt out of lamps, luminaries, and light levels, is there anything else that can be done to save energy? The answer is literally at our finger tips: turn the lights OFF!! 

With all of the attention paid to reducing energy in lighting systems, the fact still remains that turning lights OFF is the single most cost effective means of capital savings and energy conservation. However, this requires human activity that, like a weatherman, is not always reliable.

Lighting controls can help. From the basic on-off switches to more sophisticated controls such as occupancy sensors and timer switches; dimming ballasts (that can save energy consumption by controlling the output from the lamps) to more advanced environments, such as control panels (integrated with other building services such as air conditioning to monitor and control the energy consumed) - lighting controls can potentially save 25-75 percent on our electricity bills. What’s more, lighting controls add significantly to convenience and flexibility transforming the home as well as the homeowner’s lifestyle.

Rhetoric or Reality?

Picture activating the exterior and interior entryway lighting from the safety of your car using a remote control or going away on vacation and scheduling some lighting to automatically turn on and off to make the home appear occupied. Sounds exciting! Sure enough there’s more; automated lighting controls can also deliver theater experience at home, creating varying moods and scenes, activating outdoor lights during an intrusion to deter burglars, and allowing you to turn the entire home’s lighting off with a single button. The list is as good as one’s imagination!

The technologies are in place, but are we ready to embrace them as yet?

The biggest obstacle appears to be end-user education. End-users, especially in the residential sector, need to base their purchase decisions more on the benefits of advanced controls rather than price alone. How many times have we picked up the exact same bulb from the retailer instead of exploring latest lighting options while replacing fused lamps? I guess not many.

West has been early in the game and adoption of sophisticated energy saving lighting controls is growing by the day in countries such as the US. With demand and appreciation for the products, manufacturers now offer desirable and realistic lighting control and automation options for homes as small as 2,000 sqft and not without reason - these controls do have a measurable impact on the quality of life and home value.

Equipment such as dimmer controls, preset control panels, and timer based switches have a long way to go before they achieve reasonable penetration among the residential markets in the developing world. Up front cost deters people buying such products with apprehensions reinforced by the perception of complex operation.

Cost or Investment?

Over time we have learnt to see buildings (including homes) as assets rather than liabilities. More and more investments are being put into built spaces to achieve operational efficiency thus providing conducive, clean and secure environments to the occupants. Controls and automation have a key role to play under such scenarios. 

Lighting controls not only add to energy efficiency, flexibility and comfort for the inhabitants, these can be effectively used to make indoors more secure as well. Not only can this translate into improved quality of life but also into better appreciation of the home value. Consider these benefits against the upfront costs of having the controls in place – I bet you see value here. What’s more, the controls will pay back for themselves over a period in time by saving on energy bills month after month!

What’s in it for Me?

Answer to the question depends on who is asking? You may have realized by now that this is a potential win-win opportunity for everyone involved in the value chain.

Home Owner: Energy savings, flexibility, comfort, security – benefits are end less

Builder: Competitive edge, better brand name, appreciation of home value

Contractor: More business, captivated consumer base

Manufacturer: Significant business opportunity with more and more people adopting and installing controls

Nation: Better energy management at homes, increased capital saved from energy conservation, elevation of the general quality of life

With a significant installed base of buildings and increasing investments into the construction sector in the country year on year there is little doubt that the market for lighting controls may expect to see a strong growth curve. The only deterrent is consumer education. Lighting controls in many countries are still seen as luxury products for the high end homes.

Surge in demands for lighting controls can only be seen if value chain participants in the construction industry come together. The first push needs to be from the builders who have the muscle and money to create demand among the end users by offering automated interiors. Architects and specifying engineers may also contribute to elevating the end user aptitude and attitude for controls. Seminars, road shows and such other proven initiatives involving the home owners can go a long way to generate interest among the client base. Nonetheless, it is us – the commoners who have to start thinking out of the box when it comes to saving energy. A small step at home may translate into a giant leap for the nation. Next time you get up to switch off the lights, think on what you are losing!!

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