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Industry Opinion - Opportunities for the Residential Automated Lighting Market (6/4/2010)

By Yasmin Hashmi, HiddenWires

These are challenging times for those involved in automated lighting. With new types of light sources that are not always straightforward to dim, consumers being unaware on the whole about the benefits automation can bring, and the on-going economic slow-down, how does the trade view the future of the industry?

We asked a number of leading specifiers, installers and suppliers about what they think will excite the residential automated lighting market over the next year. Here are their replies:

John Niebel, Director of Residential Development, Lutron EA Ltd

2010 Promises to be an exciting year. There are two major trends within the lighting and lighting controls markets. The first will come as no surprise to most: the ever onward march towards greater efficiency through the use to lower wattage light sources. LED will continue to be to the fore here. We are finally starting to see some standardisation in the way LED drivers work now and this can only help ease their use. LEDs in light fittings and increases in their light output will also be important here, and making the fittings both more attractive and more efficient, is a powerful combination.

The other trend is in the nature of lighting controls themselves. This falls into two parts. Firstly, there is an increasing trend towards equipment becoming both more capable in terms of features, and at the same time less expensive. The effect of this is to open up new markets that previously were outside the scope of custom installers. The challenge here is to provide equipment that is easy and quick to program.

The increasing adoption of the DALI protocol for controlling individual luminaires will revolutionise the way we control lights. Soon every luminaire in an installation will soon be individually controllable, allowing faster, easier installations, more flexible control regimes and ultimately a happier client.

Melanie Shaw, Partner, Brilliant Lighting

In terms of what technologies/developments will excite the residential lighting control market, this is really a question of the manufacturers coming up with better solutions to a changing market. However, from an installer point of view, lamp and light sources are changing rapidly at the moment, and this obviously has an effect on how control systems are designed and specified. For example, one of the things that clients really like about using a control system is the way that halogen and incandescant lamps ramp up and down when turned on and off: we use a lot of 1-10V dimming to replicate this for LEDs as well. It's a lot more complex (and expensive), and different components need to be tested together in use rather than just on paper to ensure compatability between the control system and the different drivers, but it does create a much more cohesive end result. Similarly, we are using a lot more cold cathode and dimmable fluorescent sources, which again are much better when dimmed but which add a layer of complexity at the control end.

The rate of technological change can be quite a challenge. The size of our projects means that it can be a couple of years between first specifying a design and finally commissioning a system, and the specification needs to be constantly reviewed - but it's immensely satisfying to do well.

Down the track, these technological developments may necessitate a much higher level of on-going servicing for clients: for example, as halogen lamps get more efficient and LED replacements get more prevalent, circuit loads may frequently fall below minimum loads for the control system dimmers. Control systems may need regular health checks to ensure that the 'back end' infrastructure and programming keeps up with the rate of change.

Paul Wafer, Director, Rako Controls

New energy-efficient lighting sources are flooding the market and creating an exciting challenge for all control manufacturers. Replacements for incandescent and halogen lamps are being forced upon us as responsibility to save energy becomes paramount. These new light sources come in the form of LED or compact fluorescents, however they are not a straightforward source to dim.

With the promise of substantial energy savings, as ever, there is a catch, and control other than simple switching on and off is quite complex. This challenge has been met by the major control manufacturers, and not only greater energy savings but the control system will get the best from the lamps by creating moods or scenes.

Stephen Calder, Sales director, Niko (UK) Limited

Cell phone applications are becoming increasingly popular and versatile. This is leading to an expectation among clients for this sort of facility to increase the possibilities for controlling their home environments - on site and remotely. Programming also needs to be less complex and more accessible to allow for fast updating of systems and increased flexibility when changing living patterns.

The green light source - OLED (organic light emitting diode) will feature to a greater extent in installations. Not only are OLEDs super efficient, but as they do not contain metals such as mercury, which are present in the current generation of efficient CFL lamps, they are far more environmentally friendly. I believe that OLEDs are the future of lighting.

From a cosmetic perspective, the range of colour and dimming options that can be provided using RGB LEDs make these an obvious choice for most lighting designers. The range of light scenes that can be easily provided - from such an energy-efficient light source - will make LED lighting scenes increasingly popular - both in commercial and residential applications.

We are seeing installers and developers looking for solutions that not only work well and deliver integrated solutions, but they also need to be increasingly flexible and, of course, they must have ecological credentials so that they improve carbon footprints in buildings. With LED technology in particular, this is having a benefit for those installers with the vision to apply it as it offers improved features alongside improved energy efficiency. We believe that the new opportunities that this will afford the industry will help to encourage more mainstream demand for home automation and lighting control systems.

Sue Granik, Director of Business Development, Harland & Voss

Most customers in the residential refurbishment sector will be cautious and unadventurous over the next 12 months. They will be seeking reassurance rather than excitement. There will be an emphasis on smaller projects that don’t justify the use of architects. Many customers will be making product decisions independently whilst seeking informal advice from designers, suppliers and tradesmen. Consumer awareness of lighting technologies is limited - even where products have been on the market for some time. Therefore, products backed by energetic marketing to consumers, and excellent technical and logistical support for installers will gain the edge in a soft market.

On the product side, we see consumer interest in energy conservation and the green agenda driving increased demand for quality dimmers. Another developing trend is for people to be increasingly receptive to suggestions involving wireless controls in order to avoid damaging their interiors when changing switches and lights. This is particularly true for controlling new outside and garden lighting, which customers nearly always install as a separate project after work in the rest of the house has been completed. It goes without saying that demand for LED and low energy lamps will continue to be brisk in 2010 and beyond.

Mark Tallent, Lighting Control Specialist, Crestron

LED technology seems to be the main lighting talking point in the market at present. With its energy-efficient performance, long lamp life and lower maintenance, it is making inroads into all sectors, including the residential market. To fully penetrate the smart home environment however, effective dimming of LEDs at a cost-effective price, is essential. We’re looking at expanding our product offering in this area as a priority and foresee great potential.

Alongside that, wireless lighting control solutions are also taking their place front-of-mind. There are a number of reasons for this, but the most obvious is the ability to retrofit. Being able to install lighting control without running cables (and all the upheaval that entails) is an attractive proposition for many. It will change peoples? perceptions and open up new routes to market.

Wireless control means that managing the behaviour of lamps without having to disrupt existing cabling is possible, and manufacturers who are part of the ZigBee Alliance are ideally placed to take advantage of this demand. Put this together with controlling LEDs, and it is a really exciting time to be working in the lighting sector.

David Rose, Head of Design and Marketing, Morban Intelligent Living

Undoubtedly, the growth of LED lighting in the marketplace will have the single biggest impact on residential lighting. How this will manifest itself is still unclear. We at Morban are looking at entirely new ways to light certain areas in the home, as the current supply into the market is well behind the need for new and innovative ideas. The disappearance over the next few years of all incandescent lighting is still not being addressed by the majority of luminaire manufacturers, and the time is right for some radical new thinking.

Wouldn’t it be great if British designers were to pick up the baton and lead the way for a change? I think that the way edge-lit LED panels can be incorporated into structural furniture fittings in bathrooms and kitchens could be a start. Then who knows where we could go?

The control possibilities of LED are tremendous - and I don't mean simple colour change. Subtlety and nuance are the way forward with LED. Interoperability is another key issue ? how lighting control and LED can work with other residential systems including AV, home entertainment systems, and security. And don’t let us forget the delivery of even greater energy efficiency through more widespread automated interaction with movement and daylight sensors.

Given the tremendous control possibilities of LED, I hope that designers start to get a grip of this fantastic opportunity to redefine the future of domestic lighting. It would really help if Government, which is behind the regulatory push, were to do something to stimulate the British lighting design industry to embrace the new technology and create a new British design aesthetic that will cause excitement and inward investment to the UK from across the globe.

Jonathan Pengilley, Managing Director, Habitech Ltd

One year is a very short period of time for technology change, let alone technology adoption. As we all know, the general public takes years to adopt new technologies, even if there are obvious advantages. I was shocked last week to read that only 20% of all lightbulb sales in the UK are low energy. I was going to say that I haven't bought a high-energy bulb for years, but forgot that all my 50 low-voltage down lights are not energy efficient. So what's changing?

1. Modular systems
Most manufacturers are bringing out systems that are a lot more modular. Rather than very expensive central controllers for the whole home, certain brands have produced smaller modules that can be bolted together so that the homeowner can start with a couple of dimming circuits in a new home cinema room, but grow that system to incorporate the whole home. The brand that we represent in the UK is expandable from one dimming circuit to 20,000 circuits. Schiphol airport is actually using the same system that drives our demo room, it's just a wee bit bigger!

So, as well as head-end controllers and dimming circuits that bolt together, there are advances in the human interfaces (known to us common mortals as light switches). Whereas all switches were wired, we are now seeing reliable systems that combine wired and wireless solutions. The wireless light switch is here now, and with the new mesh networks, works well. In simple terms, a mesh network where every receiver is also a transmitter, so every switch, dimmer etc talks to its neighbours and passes on the control signals. This means range issues disappear and power consumption is greatly reduced.

When I have visited homes with automated lighting systems in the last few years, I have found that primary rooms have very fancy expensive intelligent switches with multiple buttons and even touchscreens, but as soon as I walk into the secondary rooms I come across a standard white plastic light switch. Some manufacturers have simplified their switches so that the intelligent switches look exactly like the 'dumb' switches. OK, so it's only aesthetics but I think adoption rates will never increase unless the decision maker (my wife in our house) likes the look of the switches.

2. Common protocols
At last we are starting to see the emergence of common standards or languages, which for other technologies, has often lead to far greater adoption levels. KNX is growing and many more manufacturers are adopting standards. This will enable the end user to choose different brands and be confident that they will all talk the same language. It makes sense that the switch in your kitchen can turn on a combination of lights or it can be reconfigured to open the front gate. Lighting control seamless with access control, now that makes sense.

3. LED advancements
Obviously the light fittings themselves are bringing great enhancements and making people think about the bigger picture. How to control the whole home? Most lighting control systems will now control LEDs which are by far the most efficient form of lighting.

4. Energy management
How often do you turn on the news these days and hear about 'Green Energy' or Government targets etc. My view is that energy management is the way to sell lighting control and automation. A fast growing group of the population wants to be seen to be green, even if it doesn't need to be financially. Lighting control supposedly enables a 20% reduction in energy usage. Personally, I think a lot of these statistics can be interpreted in many ways, but a number of manufacturers are starting to produce intelligent sockets as well as lighting circuits. Sockets can turn off a lot more items that, when in standby mode, consume considerable amounts of electricity.

As an industry we should be looking to get these products officially certified for government grants, so that we can all show payback schedules on the initial capital outlay.

Sam Woodward R&D Manager, Mode Lighting (UK)

There are two areas that will continue to excite this year: active energy saving and more advanced network connectivity.

Energy-saving technologies come in two areas. Firstly in the form of ever-more-efficient LED luminaires, combined with intelligent driver and control systems to make them easier to commission. Secondly, active monitoring and saving of energy by intelligent control systems which use a combination of daylight harvesting, load-shedding, occupancy sensing and timed operation.

Built-in Ethernet network connectivity is increasingly important to facilitate the use of a new generation of exciting user-interfaces, such as iPhones and iPads, as well as remote access and integration with other building-systems such as AV and HVAC.

However, the key advances will be in making these complex systems quick and easy to deploy. The combination of both areas of technology allows us to achieve the ultimate goal: for a lighting designer to be able to paint an artistic picture with light, and to know that it is as energy-efficient as possible, without having to worry about the various protocols that are required 'behind the scenes' - instead a well-designed control system can translate their artistic thoughts into the 1's and 0's of DMX, DALI or TCP/IP, whilst monitoring and reducing the energy-use, without them having to be concerned as to which protocol is being used. With control systems themselves now able to commission complete DALI installations with a few clicks in a standard web-browser, and to present any type of light source for control and monitoring in a simple web-page, this dream is now reality.

Aaron Castles, Residential Sales Engineer, Philips Dynalite

The future of home automation is in energy management. Providing homeowners with the ability to manage and minimise their energy use is set to impact the residential/home automation sector. Sophisticated automated lighting control technologies with built-in energy management functionality are finding increased application in houses and multi-level residential apartment blocks.

Ideally, home automation systems will comprise a single integrated control and automation system, incorporating individual best-of-breed control technologies. The lighting control network usually forms the central communications backbone of the integrated system, supporting additional systems such as temperature, AV, blind control and security. Such integrated lighting control technologies can provide homeowners with the ability to monitor power use, establish usage patterns and adjust activity levels for all of the home’s services.

In their simplest form, fully-integrated lighting control and automation systems can be employed to ensure that lighting and other services are activated only when necessary, resulting in energy and cost savings. This is aided with the use of light- and temperature-sensing technology. Advanced systems allow users to call-up historical usage patterns via an easy-to-use touchscreen and establish where improvements are required. Residents can also scrutinise particular areas of the home, or drill-down to individual circuits and make operational modifications.

More sophisticated automated operations can also be leveraged via the lighting control system. Time-clock functionality allows automated blind systems to track the sun throughout the day, and reposition blinds accordingly, letting in light and heat when required, and keeping it out when it is unwanted. This can minimise the requirement to activate temperature control systems.

When implemented correctly, integrated home automation systems equipped with energy management functionality allow homeowners to streamline control and compound energy savings.

Yasmin Hashmi is the Editor of HiddenWires magazine. Additional comments on this issue can be found at the HiddenWires LinkedIn Group where you can also participate in the discussion. If you would like to be included in future opinion pieces, please send an email to opinion(AT)


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