The technology to create buildings that can self-optimize their energy performance, ensure user comfort, and diagnose maintenance needs is here. Now the lighting industry is catching onto the vital role that this networked future will play, as the potential stretches beyond singular buildings to encompass entire cities.

For the past decade, the buzzwords Internet of Things (IoT) and Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) have been floating around, as smart products such the Nest thermostat and wearable fitness devices captivated consumers. In the IoT, everyday objects are outfitted with sensors, microprocessors, and the ability to talk to other machines over a local system. In the IIoT, objects networked together collect swaths of data for analytics, information management, and knowledge transfer to optimize large-scale systems, such as buildings, factories, highways, and cities. (For this article, IoT will be used to collectively describe both concepts, which are beginning to converge in both vision and practice.)

The opportunities for the lighting industry are immense. Luminaires, which essentially see every square inch of habitable space, are an obvious media in which to host the sensor and video technology that can turn the world into a virtual databank. With state legislation, building codes, and standards such as Part 6 of California’s Title 24, New York City’s Local Law 88, and ASHRAE Standard 90.1 compelling businesses to retrofit luminaires with LEDs, the opportunity to upgrade from conventional controls—on–off, occupancy, and dimming—has never been more obvious. “It would be a shame to put in systems that are single purpose,” says Tanuj Mohan, founder and chief technology officer of Enlighted, a Sunnyvale, Calif.–based technology company that exhibited at Lightfair. “You’d be missing the opportunity to make your buildings truly smart. Since the biggest cost is labor, if you put the wrong sensor and platform in, then you are [stuck] for the next 10 to 20 years.”

Navigant Research building data flow
Navigant Research A typical building control system uses data collected from sensors and submetering to inform a building management system, which can help monitor a facility’s energy use.

The Architecture of the IoT

Powering the IoT is a complex physical and virtual network. At the consumer interface are sensors, data collectors that are capable of capturing everything from ambient light levels to video, audio, temperature, carbon dioxide levels, and more. They can be integrated into luminaires during original manufacture or wired in as a retrofit component. For instance, the NetSense Node sensors by Sensity Systems, in Sunnyvale, Calif., can plug into any LED fixture with a standard electrical outlet.

To relay the data to the Internet, the sensors must be addressable. With the tech industry predicting 50 billion devices in the IoT space by 2020, it will become cost prohibitive to assign IP addresses to every sensor and manage the IP-related network, says Sohrab Modi, chief technology officer and vice president of engineering at Echelon, a controls company in San Jose, Calif. Instead, sensors can be networked using power-line communications and wireless standards, such as ZigBee. In turn, those networks can “rely on gateways and routers to forward information beyond their own networks,” Modi says.

The sensors must then deliver the information they collect via a communications protocol. The IT world converged on TCP/IP and Ethernet in the late 20th century, Modi says, but a standard for the IoT space remains up for grabs. Contenders to date include ZigBee, Bluetooth, Wi-Fi, and Z-Wave. The different communications-transfer methods vary in speed, bandwidth, security, reliability, and range.

Gateways allow information coming from different channels to communicate with each other and moreover with an Ethernet, IP, or Web-services network that then allows a computer or human to access, manage, and control the data, Modi says. If the network has an open API (application programming interface), third-party developers can create apps that utilize the data.

IoT Applications in Buildings

The technology behind the IoT is ahead of what the market is ready for, says Noah Goldstein, a San Francisco–based research director for Navigant Research who presented the study Intelligent Buildings and Big Data at Lightfair with Greg Walker, research director of the Continental Automated Buildings Association (CABA), in Ottawa, Canada. Converting a building’s lighting system to LEDs is still a relatively new movement. However, in terms of the IoT, “Lighting is not only the low-hanging fruit, but the fruit that’s already on the ground,” Walker said.

The study, completed in February, was commissioned by CABA to identify potential facility-, business-, and energy-management uses for big data, such as building automation, capital planning, and predictive maintenance. The market for big data–related software, hardware, and services for buildings is forecasted to climb to $512 million by 2020, three times this year’s projected revenue of $171 million, Goldstein says.

Beyond direct sales of IoT products and services, the June 2015 report The Internet of Things: Mapping the Value Beyond the Hype by the McKinsey Global Institute estimates the annual economic impact of intelligent energy management savings as between $50 billion and $110 billion for homes, and between $12 billion and $21 billion for offices by 2025. These values assume a conservative 20 percent reduction in overall energy use. Using the IoT in safety and security applications raises these numbers by $15 billion to $20 billion.

McKinsey Internet of Things economic impact
McKinsey & Co. / McKinsey Global Institute The McKinsey Global Institute estimated the annual economic impact of IoT applications in different settings in their 2015 report The Internet of Things: Mapping the Value Beyond the Hype.

The IoT is already being used in these building applications, but in silos rather than in an integrated fashion, Walker said. The current paradigm of imbuing isolated components or a single building system, such as lighting or HVAC, with intelligence may generate a 5 percent to 20 percent savings in energy for that particular system, said Stephen Selkowitz, the senior adviser for building science at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (LBNL), during the forum. However, an approach that uses multisystem energy-efficiency measures can result in 30 percent to 50 percent in savings across the whole building. These significant measures will be necessary to realize high-performance, net-zero-energy buildings.

Sensors and advanced controls are part of the crucial first step. “If you don’t know the performance of something, how are you going to manage it?” Selkowitz asked. As more building components go online, intelligent control systems will become more accessible to consumers, said LBNL staff scientist Eleanor Lee. Similar to computer hardware in the IT space, the cost of sensors is decreasing while their data-collecting and communication capabilities are increasing. As the gap between IT and operational technology narrows, the plug-and-play interoperability of computer hardware—for example, self-discovery and automatic device configuration—will be imparted to lighting controls and sensors.

Several pilot programs and full-scale test beds are underway to determine the effect of smart controls in building systems. At LBNL’s FLEXLAB, in Berkeley, Calif., Lee is leading the High Performance Active Perimeter Building Systems project, which field tests and evaluates the interoperability and performance of shading, daylighting, and lighting systems.

The nonprofit organization Building Energy Exchange (BEEx) in New York is monitoring several demonstration sites to quantify the impact of advanced lighting and shading controls in retrofit commercial high-rises. Citing the 2010 report Energy Efficiency Potential Study for Consolidated Edison Co. of New York, Inc., in his Lightfair presentation, BEEx executive director Richard Yancey said that interior and exterior lighting systems use 32 percent of the electricity consumed by commercial buildings in New York (related cooling expenses use an additional 17 percent).

BEEx and LBNL are now studying occupied office buildings in New York. Using so-called “state-of-the-shelf” lighting and shading controls technology, the Living Lab Demonstration Project will measure the energy savings and well-being of occupants at the Bank of America tower at One Bryant Park and at Goldman Sachs’ headquarters at 200 West Street. Demonstration programs as these will help accelerate the learning and adoption curve of intelligent, integrated building controls by documenting their outcomes for owners, installers, designers, and manufacturers.

Construction of LBNL's exterior testing facility, which contains four of FLEXLAB's seven testbeds.
Roy Kaltschmidt / Courtesy the Regents of the University of California; Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory LBNL's exterior testing facility, which contains four of FLEXLAB's seven testbeds.

The IoT Beyond Building Automation

Retail is the most immediate proving ground for the IoT, Goldstein says. Intelligent lighting systems can be used to match customers’ virtual browsing preferences to areas in a store and provide relevant discounts, product recommendations, and wayfinding tips. They can also help deter shoplifting and expedite customer checkout and payment.

The IoT can even influence the customer experience before any shopping begins. At Lightfair, Sensity’s CEO Hugh Martin and Simon Property Group vice president Edward Sayers discussed how the IoT will help patrons find parking spaces and illuminate paths to their cars at night. The companies are also developing apps together, says Sensity senior director of product marketing Joel Vincent. One such app will visually monitor pavement discoloration to provide early identification of parking-lot maintenance issues. “[Simon Property] had a list of 90 application ideas, which we narrowed down to 10 or 12,” Vincent says. “This highlights the philosophy of having an [open] platform where we provide APIs and let people who understand what the system and data can do work with our development team.”

With 4-billion-plus fixtures lining highways, roads, and sidewalks worldwide, Martin said, the opportunities for the IoT to influence everyday life—traffic, mass transit, water and air quality, and public safety—are endless.

Hurdles for a Widespread IoT
For the IoT to become mainstream, several digital, physical, and psychological hurdles must be overcome. Unreliable equipment and slow network transmission speeds remain legitimate concerns, and the question of a standard communications protocols for IoT devices in the building space has yet to be resolved.

So what can lighting designers and specifiers do now? They have to demand products and systems that mimic the IT world, Lee said. Sensors, switches, and devices should move toward IP-enabled devices that can operate on standard transmission mediums, such as Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, and Ethernet. Open APIs would also transform “lighting into an application platform” similar to smartphones, Vincent says.

And the issues of data security and individual privacy must certainly be addressed. Vincent says that Sensity takes a layered approach to security. Devices that have access to personal information are secured physically—and the data itself is heavily encrypted; at the network level, authentication protocols such as passwords are used. Enlighted also employs password-based authentication for its networks. “Access control is limited by the users and their roles and domains,” vice president of business development Zach Gentry says.

“Privacy is part and parcel to [data security],” Vincent says. The information collected by Sensity’s network is short-lived, he says. “This isn’t a dropcam-style video camera where we’re streaming data constantly and archiving it. We store data for as long as it makes sense for us to do the analytic that the application requires.” (However, an end user may choose to develop an API and data management system to store information about their particular site.) Vincent adds that software developers who want to use Sensity’s data must sign up for its developer program, abide by the company’s privacy policy, and describe how they intend to use the data.

But even though the data on a building’s energy use and occupant comfort can be collected, Navigant Research and CABA found in their study that many facility managers do not understand its potential because they haven’t used analytics in the past. Goldstein says prospective IoT vendors must be direct in their pitch, “articulate the value propositions, and not talk in scientific or statistical terms. Rather, they should say, ‘We will help lower your maintenance cost, and here’s how.’ ”

The study also found that money is the most important factor in whether an owner decides to upgrade a building. Goldstein says the return on investment for a building automation system can range from near-instantaneous—for example, a commercial facility operating at full tilt on weekends—to about three years for a building being managed by a third-party, to roughly five years for an owner-operated building. Furthermore, he says, “what the data analytics can bring isn’t just bottom-line cost savings in energy, but also operational savings, which is a harder number to calculate because it hits so many different parts of the facility.”

Enlighted’s Gentry says that the big-picture cost of upgrading a lighting system with IoT sensors is comparable to or less than the cost of a conventional controls system. While more hardware is required—a sensor on every luminaire in the IoT, instead of a single sensor per group of luminaires—the time saved in labor, set up, and ultimately in improved operations can more than make up the initial hardware premium, he says. “Architects and specifiers should make sure the systems that go into buildings are leveraging what technology has enabled today.”