When we focus on new technology, we tend to favour new build as the platform to launch said technology but in reality, most technologies have to work on new and existing buildings.

What is never discussed is the true cost of install as this is often difficult to quantify.

I know from discussions with some large companies the cost of refurbishing the lighting from Fluorescent to LED has often come with a real sting in the tail due to the need to resize circuits based on the electrical characteristics of LED ballasts.

We must therefore ask ourselves when selecting a control solution for an existing building, how can we avoid the sting in the tail we have seen with LED’s and how can we design a solution with future expansion/development in mind.

Its worth noting that many of the buildings we are looking to update may be say 10 or 15 years old and as such are at the start of the overall design life so will be occupied for many years to come so we have a duty of care to ensure we design with an eye to the future.

Current trends would push us towards a wireless solution for existing buildings as the cable free update without any infrastructure cost but again this is technology dependent.

Wireless controls in the market today are aligned with a particular manufacturer so they are not truly open. Hardware, software and maintenance are all tied up in what can be a very expensive package.

I have spoken at length about de-risking and ensuring you are not restricted through being linked to a particular company’s wireless solution. Currently we are very close to an open wireless offer with the adoption of IEC 62386 Part 104 Wireless DALI. Once the testing regime has been agreed later this year by the Digital Illumination Interface Alliance (DIIA) then we will have a wireless solution that gives designers, OEM’s, Contractors and the end user the freedom to select the solution that works best for them. Products should be available between Q1 and Q2 next year 2020; so not that long to wait.

At zencontrol we favour Bluetooth and Open Thread as the wireless protocols of choice but we also accept that in many applications wireless will coexist with wired solutions. The reasons are many but in reality it will be driven by two factors, Energy and Cost.

If we handle the topic of energy we must consider that a wireless device will be continually monitoring the network whilst looking for input. Therefore its power consumption in its off state may be significant. The term used to describe this energy consumption is parasitic load and although i’m not a fan of the term; I prefer standby losses, it does describe an inefficiency that can be managed by simply reducing the number of wireless nodes.

Therefore the principle of wireless to many, might be a prudent alternative.

If we have existing building stock with some level of control then we have wiring in place that we can exploit to upgrade the installation. Wireless sensors using the Part 104 stack or wireless gateways using the same technology provide a degree of  sophistication that truly is smart whilst using a standard IEC 62386 Part 102 DALI-2 ballast.

This is where cost comes into the equation as a standard DALI -2 ballast will be of a lower cost than its wireless alternative. The difference in cost is an unknown as yet, but some manufacturers are already offering wireless ballasts based on proprietary Bluetooth or similar, so it follows suit the differential will be similar. If you have no control cables then yes it may be cheaper to install an all wireless solution but if you are updating  an existing control system then you have options that would allow you to continue using some of the features of the existing scheme.

We should also be realistic and accept that most refurbishments occur as part of planned upgrade and that these upgrades could take months or years to complete so system efficiency must be maintained and life safety systems such as emergency lighting not compromised.

I have spoken about Hybrid circuits in the past and in all probability this is the way the market will evolve, not out of choice but through necessity. Factors such as the construction method or materials used will dictate our choice of technology and clearly we should strive to use the most appropriate technology for each application.

Simplicity has to be the key and developments such as D4i from DiiA offer a solution for OEM’s to incorporate some smart technology within their luminaires which has huge merit.  For those of you not aware of D4i this is a DALI-2 Ballast that has an auxiliary output that could drive a DALI sensor or Wireless node. In the most part I think it will be the latter so its a tool for connecting wireless to a luminaire. We at zencontrol are also working in this arena with our smart driver which utilises this technology but in a slightly different way.

The challenge with technologies such as D4i is linking them to a wider system. Why this is important is based around how we use our buildings and how we connect disparate system together.

If you talk to any IT expert they will go on at length as to why managing data is simple and straightforward and that its all about inputs and outputs and to a degree they are correct.

There is always an however, and lighting is a point in question, as we are talking about a product built for a price that is installed on mass in buildings usually working to a very tight budget. Its not an expensive computer, switch  or router, and there may be thousands of luminaires in a building.

So as an industry we agree that at a subnet level we need to provide a degree of control that is truly open and interoperable so designers, engineers, contractors and OEM’s can select the product that works for them and they know will connect to a wired or wireless system. In the main I hope this system is DALI Part 103 & 104 and that its provides a truly open platform to the world of IoT.

Integration of DALI-2 to the wider world will be where the smart money is and this is where the magic can truly happen. We have solutions that are built around DALI-2 and are now driving Part 104 along with other lighting companies to deliver truly smart lighting but its crucial we think in a connected way and that technologies such as D4i can be exploited.  Its only when we link these technologies to a management system that can use this data to provide real world intelligence to save energy and significantly reduce cost.

Analytics will drive the market but questions such as how much energy am I using .or what is the status of my emergency lighting have to be built around solid foundations that minimise risk yet provide a truly connected solution.

Watch this space!

Stewart.B.Langdown Fellow of the Society of Light and Lighting


m+44(0)7774 821093