What is “smart lighting”?
Nowadays human life is linked to artificial light. It is ubiquitous at home, in the office, on the street and in many other activities that we don’t even think about. While in the past people used candles and gas lamps, things got easier with the advent of electric lighting. In the last century, lighting has become a common and indispensable feature in all homes, workplaces and public spaces. Now it’s very easy, a simple press of the switch turns the light on. But does it end here, or is there more?
The technological advances of the last decades have allowed intelligent lighting to become an essential part of modern life. But what can be intelligent about controlling light and how does it have an impact on us?
Lighting control has been possible since the middle of the last century with the invention of light dimming technology and is now the most desired automation solution for building owners all over the world. In addition to switching light on, off and dimming, an intelligent lighting system allows you to create scenarios that can be activated depending on the presence of people in the room, the time of day, the ambient light, but also depending on the activity (study, relax, movie, party, etc.). You can create local, room-level scenes or general, whole-building scenes.
Commands can be given locally from a keypad (smart switch) or touch panel but also remotely from a smartphone, tablet or laptop via dedicated app.
Lighting integration in the automation system
If you put light bulbs in your home that you can control from your phone through an app, do you achieve lighting control in your home? Not really… You might as well have said before that by pressing the switch, you controlled the lighting, choosing when to turn off or on what light you wanted. Smart lighting means more than that.
To enjoy all its benefits, lighting must be integrated into a building automation system. This involves an interconnection between field elements (keypads, touch panels and presence and brightness sensors) and panel equipment (actuators, circuit breakers, DALI interfaces, central server). The lighting system is also interconnected with the other features of the smart home, such as shading, security, air conditioning, audio/video equipment, etc. In this way, the entire automation system is able to adapt itself according to the needs of the users, offering a unique, personalised experience.
When you enter the living room, for example, the system detects your presence thanks to sensors and turns on the light automatically. When you turn on a movie, the lights dim and the colour temperature is adjusted for pleasant, relaxing enjoyment. If you choose the “Study” scenario, the lights will switch to a colder colour temperature that is suitable for focusing. If you wake up at night and want to go to the bathroom, the system automatically turns on the night lights to guide you without disturbing your partner. During the morning, instead of turning on the light, the system will open the curtains and blindsso you can enjoy the benefits of natural light.
For extra convenience and interactivity, you can also choose to integrate voice assistants such as Google Home, Amazon Alexa, Apple Siri or Josh.ai. Although not everyone still allows you to give commands in Romanian, if you know an international language (English, Spanish, German, etc.), the voice assistant will become a loyal helper.
„Ok Google, turn on the bedroom light”
„Alexa, brighten the lights in the living room to 75%”
Remote control is another important advantage of a smart home solution. From any location around the world you can control and monitor all the systems installed in your home through one single app. In addition, real-time notifications in case of malfunctions allow you to take prompt action.
According to an European Commission report, buildings are responsible for 40% of energy consumption in the EU. Improving the energy efficiency of buildings is therefore a major objective set out in the European Green Pact.. In buildings, lighting is a major consumption factor. This means that we need to find ways to reduce energy consumption in buildings. One of the most important solutions is the implementation of automated lighting control systems.
Studies have shown that occupancy sensors implemented to turn lights on or off depending on the presence of people in the room can generate savings of up to 38% compared to manually operating switches. If the information from the brightness sensors and the automation system’s detection of activities in the room are taken into account, the energy savings from dimming are even greater.
An energy-efficient and environmentally friendly solution is the intelligent lighting solution with LED technology, which also has a unique visual appearance. LED (Light Emitting Diode) technology has become popular lately both because of its low energy consumption and longer life, up to 25 times longer than traditional light bulbs.
According to studiesby the U.S. Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy, the usage of LED sources leads to energy savings of up to 90% compared to incandescent lights. Even though it has higher purchase costs, LED technology helps to achieve significant savings thanks to its lower energy consumption and much longer durability. In the last few years, the cost of LED sources has considerably decreased and is expected to decrease further in the future due to the development and market entry of more and more LED products. Compared to traditional light bulbs, LED sources do not attract insects, are good for plant growth, contain no mercury or toxic materials and have a smaller carbon footprint.
Occupant-centred lighting control
An automation system must adapt to the needs and desires of the users and “learn” their preferences in order to offer them comfort, user-friendliness and energy efficiency in return. For optimal interaction, it is essential that the system is user-centred from the design phase.
The lighting system must be able to determine the exact location of users and adjust the light intensity and colour temperature accordingly for the areas they are present, while switching off lights in non-occupied areas. It also has to identify the type of activity each user is doing in order to provide them with the appropriate lighting control. The lighting system must be interlinked not only with presence and brightness sensors but also with shading systems to maximise the use of natural light.
User lighting preferences, such as different light intensity or colour temperatures for different activities, can be specified in the system or learned by the system. User-centric lighting control algorithms exist for smart buildings. In order to provide the right lighting level for a specific activity, it considers an algorithm for lighting control based on observations from a network of room sensors. By identifying a user position and activity, the system can adjust the optimal lighting settings.
Modern LED technologies allow dimming as well as changing colour temperature which makes them preferred for lighting control in buildings.
Artificial light and health
A research conducted in 2019 in 15 countries in Europe and North America found that today people spend up to 90% of their lives indoors in their homes and offices using artificial lighting. In the meantime humanity has also faced the COVID-19 pandemic which has made us spend even more time indoors. How does this affect our health?
Through the ages, humans have evolved in harmony with the Earth’s natural light cycle, which has low light levels and colour temperatures in the early morning, high in mid-day, low in the evening and extremely low at night. These variations in light levels over a 24-hour period define our circadian rhythm or ‘biological clock’. Our body operates according to an ‘internal clock’ or biorhythm which is regulated by light intake. Darkness and light trigger the action of substances in our brains to tell us when it’s time to sleep or wake up.
Natural sunlight is absolutely necessary for humans. It is benefic for us in an amount that does not cause burns. Sunlight helps our bodies to produce vitamin D3, which is vital for the absorption of calcium and phosphorus in the body, helping to strengthen our bone system. So we know that natural light is beneficial and indispensable but, as it turns out, we are much more often exposed to artificial light sources. This is why it is very important to choose carefully the type and level of artificial light we use for our daily activities.
As Koen Dekyvere, Basalte’s export director, explains to the British magazine HiddenWires, “Any artificial light source should come as close as possible to the qualities of sunlight. This is the intention of centrally controlled circadian lighting: to simulate natural daylight. Light can influence our motivation, well-being and productivity. Our biological response to light depends on things like colour spectrum, intensity and duration. The quality of light in our environment is obviously crucial when we spend a lot of time inside rooms. Especially nowadays, when so many people work from home, this is becoming more relevant for everyday life than ever before. That’s why integrating the circadian rhythm into the home automation system is a future direction. This can improve concentration, prevent sleep disturbances and increase overall well-being.”
Artificial light at home or at work can influence the way a person feels and affect their health. In addition to the comfort and energy-saving benefits, a smart lighting system can even have therapeutic effects and increase well-being if it is properly designed and configured with the right light sources.
The level of light and its colour temperature a person needs depends on both the time of day and the activity they are doing. During the day, we need a high level of light and a warmer colour temperature in order to maintain the awareness and alertness needed to carry out our daily tasks, while in the evening and at night, the light level and colour temperature will be lower and lower so that the body can relax and prepare for sleep.
In addition to brightness, colour temperature must be taken into account for effective lighting. The warm light has shades of red and yellow. This produces a relaxing effect and an intimate, pleasant ambience in the room. It is therefore suitable for the living room, bedroom or dining room. Cold light has bluish tones. If it is very intense it can cause discomfort to the eyes. It is suitable for bathrooms, kitchens or offices because it stimulates concentration and helps you to notice details and colours better.
Inappropriate use of artificial light can lead to serious health problems such as depression, sleep disorders, gastrointestinal diseases, metabolic disorders, diabetes and cancer. The automation system can be programmed by specialists, who will obviously also take into account the preferences of the users, so that the lighting is suitable for each activity carried out and is automatically adjusted for the comfort and well-being of the building users.
Smart outdoor lighting
When we think of smart lighting we have in mind the inside of buildings but we should not neglect the outside space around them. With the right lighting, this space can be enhanced and made more practical and safe.
The automation system also allows lighting to be configured in the area around buildings. Thanks to the sensors installed on the gates, when you return home and open them, the system will automatically turn on the lights in the entire yard or just the driveway, depending on how you set them. Exterior lights can also activate when a person or car approaches to the gate. Even if you don’t have a big yard, you shouldn’t neglect the outside. You can set up the lighting of the entrance steps and areas of interest such as the garage entrance, intercom, mailbox, etc.
The outside of the building can also be illuminated, which has a particularly visual impact. Special outdoor LED elements installed on the exterior of the building can be switched on automatically at nightfall, giving the building a spectacular and attractive visual identity for the viewer. The lights that cover the exterior of the building highlight its architectural details.
Installing a smart lighting system is also an easy and effective way to increase the security of a property. For home security, many people choose to buy a guard dog or set up a few fake cameras to scare off potential intruders. Others prefer to leave the lights on when they are away on holiday. But research shows that this can actually attract the attention of thieves, who can deduce that you are not at home.
A better solution is to use lighting scenarios that simulate the owners’ presence in the house. Various lighting sources can be switched on when presence is detected, according to a predefined schedule or according to their own program learned and simulated by the building automation system.
If you also have video cameras and other security systems installed, you can receive notifications on your mobile phone when an intruder is detected near your home. From your phone you can activate various light scenes both inside the house and in the yard to discourage break-ins.
Thieves prefer properties that are easy to access. If you have your driveway, entrances, garage area, yard and interior illuminated, intruders will prefer to stay away.
Smart lighting for offices
We spend a good part of our day at the office, and this work is an extremely demanding activity for the body even if it involves minimal physical effort. In addition to the back pain we may experience due to incorrect sitting posture, we may also experience vision problems if the lighting is not optimal. Eye fatigue and blurred vision lead to headaches that prevent us from performing at a high level.
For office spaces, as in homes, it is very important to choose the right lighting sources. Studies show that LED technology is the most recommended in this case too, as it is capable of producing artificial light as close as possible to natural light. In addition, on a long-term basis, LED lighting solutions prove to be extremely efficient due to their low energy consumption and long lifetime.
Office space owners need to consider both the intensity and colour temperature of lighting sources, which influence the health and mood of employees as well as their ability to concentrate and perform. Office lighting can also become a design element if it”s planned correctly.
A smart lighting system installed in an office building can provide optimal artificial light for employees and energy savings for owners, who no longer have to worry about lights left on in non-occupied spaces.
No matter how well designed a space is, if it is not properly illuminated, its qualities will not stand out. Lately, architects and interior designers have put more focus on lighting design. They realised that modern architecture also requires appropriate lighting to complement or emphasise the look of a space. For example, accent lighting is used indoors to highlight an object, such as a sculpture, a painting or even a wall.
Architects and interior designers are more and more consulting automation developers for lighting solutions that both enhance visual appearance and efficiency for customer. Those know both the differences between different luminaries and lighting sources and the technologies needed to achieve the desired effect.
To have intelligent lighting integrated into the design, the needs and preferences of the user, the architecture of the space and energy efficiency must be taken into account. Considering the extremely wide range of lighting solutions and luminaires and the evolution of lighting technologies, the possibilities for integration in architecture are practically limitless. The main role of artificial light in the design of a building, both exterior and interior, should be to complement and highlight shapes, textures and colours. And the future in this field looks bright!