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Lighting Control and Automation Technologies

Leonardo has been an online writer for over three years. He is a trained electromechanical engineer with an MBA.

Learn about different types of lighting systems to improve your space

Learn about different types of lighting systems to improve your space

Why Upgrade Your Lighting?

There are two main types of lighting upgrades that can be carried out in a home or business. One of them is to replace existing fixtures or bulbs with energy-efficient alternatives such as LED, which is very straightforward. The other type of upgrade is to install controls to enhance the lighting experience in addition to saving energy, which opens up greater possibilities in terms of creativity and customization.

This article will focus on the main lighting control and automation technologies that can be used in homes and commercial spaces, giving a brief description of each technology and its benefits. This article will cover the following lighting control and automation technologies:

  1. Dimmer switches
  2. Occupancy sensors
  3. Photocells
  4. Daylight harvesting
  5. Color-adjustable lighting
A slider-type dimmer switch.

A slider-type dimmer switch.

1. Dimmer Switches

Have you ever felt the need to adjust the intensity of indoor lighting? Perhaps you like to have very bright lighting when reading a book, but prefer a dimmer source of light for watching movies or TV series. With a dimmer switch, you can obtain both types of lighting from the same lamp.

As implied by its name, a dimmer switch is a type of lighting switch that allows you to adjust the intensity of light for the lamps being controlled by it. Dimmer switches typically have a slider or a dial that allows you to adjust the lighting output progressively from off to full brightness. Lutron is one of the best-known commercial brands of lighting controls, offering a wide variety of dimmer switches for residential and commercial applications.

If you are planning to purchase dimmers for your home lighting, make sure they are for the correct type of lamp. Some dimmers work exclusively with incandescent lighting, while others are for LED bulbs only. Also, there are some types of dimmer switches designed to work with any type of lamp. Don't worry about this, however, because it will be pointed out in the product specifications.

Dimmers typically come in two main types: they can be wall-mounted and used to control ceiling lights, such as the one shown in the picture above; or they can be designed for lamps that are plugged in receptacles, like the example below.

A wall-mounted infrared sensor.

A wall-mounted infrared sensor.

2. Occupancy Sensors

Occupancy sensors make sure the lights are only on when someone is in the corresponding indoor space. This offers two main benefits:

  • Comfort, since occupants can turn the lights on by simply walking in. There is no need to walk over to the switch's location and turn the lights on and off manually.
  • Energy savings, since the lights will only be on when someone is in the room.

There are two main types of occupancy sensors, based on the physical principle used to detect the presence of humans:

  • Infrared sensors are like the alien from the Predator movies: they detect occupants based on their heat footprint. Don't worry, they will not fire balls of plasma at you!
  • Ultrasonic sensors use sonar to detect occupants. It is the same principle used by submarines and bats to detect objects that can't be seen.

Ultrasonic sensors are more expensive but they also offer superior detection capabilities. An infrared sensor can't detect you if there is an obstacle blocking you, but an ultrasonic sensor can. However, there is no reason to purchase the ultrasonic version in cases where an infrared sensor is enough.

In general, you will only require ultrasonic sensors in cases such as the following:

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  • Rooms with obstacles blocking the direct line of sight between the sensor and occupants, such as office areas with cubicles.
  • Outdoor applications where sunlight may interfere with infrared sensor operation.
  • Bathrooms, where there may be several doors preventing an infrared sensor from detecting people. When using occupancy sensors for a bathroom, select a model that supports small motors in addition to lighting so that you can also use it to control the extractor.

If there are no obstacles or significant sources of heat other than people, infrared sensors normally will be enough for that specific application.

A cobra-head luminaire with a photocell on top (cylindrical object).

A cobra-head luminaire with a photocell on top (cylindrical object).

3. Photocells

A photocell is basically a type of sensor that can turn lamps on and off in response to the amount of light available in the environment. They are ideal for outdoor lighting control, where they respond to sunlight, turning lamps on at night and automatically switching them back off after sunrise.

Photocells help save energy, and once you install them you no longer have to worry about turning outdoor lighting on and off - the photocell does that for you automatically.

This technology is normally used in lighting fixtures that direct all of their lighting downward, such as cobra-head street lights. They are installed above the luminaire to prevent the light from the luminaire itself from interfering with the photocell's function.

4. Daylight Harvesting

Rather than being a specific device, daylight harvesting is a concept that integrates two technologies to maximize the indoor use of daylight. Basically, daylight harvesting combines a photosensor, which detects the amount of light currently available, with dimming technology.

When there is no daylight available, the daylight harvesting system sets indoor lighting at full brightness. As more outdoor lighting is available, indoor lamps are progressively dimmed down; and if the system detects that outdoor lighting is enough to fully illuminate the indoor space, the lights will be turned off completely.

The following video is an excellent demonstration of daylight harvesting. Note how the lamps reach full brightness when the windows are closed.

Of course, the main benefit of daylight harvesting is that it saves energy. There is no need to overproduce artificial light, which you must pay for, if the sun can provide enough free natural light for indoor spaces.

5. Color-Adjustable Lighting

This is one of the newest lighting control technologies, and it is only available with LED lighting. Basically, with color-adjustable lighting, you are no longer restricted to one lighting color when you purchase an LED bulb. For example, there are now LED fixtures that can be set to any hue of light from red to blue. This technology normally comes with a smartphone app for you to control the color of lighting remotely.

The Philips Hue product line is a great example of color-adjustable lighting.

Color-adjustable lighting has both practical purposes and leisure applications.

  • For example, you can switch an LED lamp from warm white to clear white in case you have to work on something. Then, if you want to create a relaxing atmosphere, you can switch it back to warm white.
  • You can use color-adjustable lighting to signal alarms.
  • The technology allows you to "set the mood" for watching a movie, reading a story to your kids, or having a romantic dinner with your spouse.

Energy Savings and Lighting Customization

As you can see in the examples above, lighting control and automation technologies help you save energy, while also providing comfort and allowing you to modify how indoor spaces "feel".

If you are planning to upgrade the lighting in your home or business, consider implementing the above technologies to further enhance the performance of the lighting system.

Lighting Control and Automation

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

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