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Three Common Myths About LLLC Technology

Feb. 23, 2021
Technological advancements have led to widespread myths.

With individual sensors embedded in every LED fixture, Luminaire Level Lighting Controls (LLLC) represent one of the most intuitive, flexible lighting controls systems on the market. LLLC technology delivers significant business benefits like easy space reconfiguration and high-quality lighting for occupants, and studies have shown annual energy savings up to 75% compared to traditional commercial lighting.

While there is a lot of buzz about LLLC, there are a lot of myths and misconceptions about installation, operation, and maintenance of this technology, too. We’re going to break down some of these myths but first, a little background on LLLC systems.

What are Luminaire Level Lighting Controls?

According to the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC) 2018, LLLC is defined as “a lighting system consisting of one or more luminaires with embedded lighting control logic, occupancy and ambient light sensors, wireless networking capabilities and local override switching capability, where required.” What does this all mean? LLLC systems enable inherent granularity of control with individual, wireless sensors, to start.

Even the simplest, most basic LLLC systems offer capabilities like occupancy sensing, daylight harvesting, continuous dimming, high-end trim/task tuning, and controls persistence to give users out-of-the box energy savings. The real benefits, however, lie within many advanced systems that have the potential to allow you to integrate your lighting with other building systems like HVAC – creating a holistically smart and efficient building.  

Over the years, this technology has seen some major advancements in capabilities, ease of use, and product availability – there are now 23 LLLC-qualified systems from 20 different manufacturers on the DesignLights Consortium Qualified Product List and thousands of compatible fixtures. But these leaps in advancement have led to some widespread myths about the technology and its operability.

Myth #1: All lighting has to have a sensor, limiting fixture options.

When it comes to LLLC, one of the biggest myths we hear is that the individual sensors within the technology limit options for fixtures because you can’t have decorative, architectural fixtures with a sensor. In reality, there’s fairly wide-open fixture availability for those that can include LLLC sensors. With fixture options in the thousands, as mentioned above, you can have LLLC technology on pretty much whatever you’re considering.

The big myth, however, is that LLLC requires you to have sensors on all your fixtures. In fact, when we recommend LLLC, we’re typically talking about general building fixtures – not your architectural lighting like wall sconces. Realistically, building designs can and should incorporate a combination of both. While LLLC gives the greatest flexibility and control for lay-in fixtures, they don’t need to be on everything. Your architectural lighting can simply have one sensor where all fixtures are grouped together. And, depending on the technology, you can often use the same mobile or tablet application to control and group all your different types of fixtures however you want, with luminaire level for your general lighting and a set of wall sconces grouped together in another part of the space, for example.

Myth #2: Lighting controls save a lot of energy if used correctly, but are annoying for occupants.

We’ve all had this experience: You’re working away in your office when, all of a sudden, the lights turn off – your lighting system’s occupancy sensors have mistaken your intense focus for an empty space. It is a ubiquitous, annoying headache that has led to Dixie cups, duct tape, and more being used to cover up sensors in offices across the country, counterintuitive to the system’s intended purpose. 

With the advent of LLLC technology, this annoyance is essentially eliminated. Because each individual fixture has its own sensor, these systems can detect movement in every corner of a space – and you can’t “trick” the system by covering it up with a piece of duct tape.

Okay, so how about this misconception: Daylighting sensors create jarring visual transitions for occupants whose eyes can’t adjust to the lighting shift when a system decides there’s enough natural light in the space.

These systems are more advanced than any networked lighting controls (NLC) over the past 30 years and are more capable of working their intended way without the ensuing headache for occupants. Inherent to their sensor-level control is a more seamless visual experience – the technology has advanced so that there’s a smooth, undetectable-to-the-eye transition when it comes to daylighting zones. The vast majority of occupants will hardly know the difference.

Myth #3: Luminaire level lighting controls are too expensive and a big investment.

This is probably the most common myth we hear about LLLC technology, and understandably so. Generally, these systems do have a higher per-fixture cost. But let’s dive into an analysis of the total cost and ROI.

First, it’s important to note that there’s a downward trend in fixture costs overall – according to a new study, between 2017 and 2020 the per-fixture incremental cost of the most basic LLLC fell 28%, with the 2020 cost-per-fixture totaling $149 vs. $100 for a standard LED fixture without controls. Over the same period, the per-fixture incremental cost of advanced LLLC with added features also fell by 16%.  

And, when it comes to installing a new lighting system, there’s more than just the fixture cost. A lot of work goes into every step of the design and installation process – and that’s where LLLC technology can make a big difference. One of the biggest advantages of LLLC is that they’re wireless. Everything is built right into the fixture, right out of the box. What does that mean for design? You’re not designing a sensor layout and circuit connections, and it means no switch leg design since you’re not running wires. Because of the individual sensors, you also don’t have to design daylight harvesting zones – simply group fixtures into the zones you want at the touch of a button. 

That saves a lot of labor costs on the design side, but what about installation? It all comes back to wireless controls, lowering installation costs without wiring and re-wiring headaches with faster project completion. And this enables stress-free reconfiguration down the road if space utilization changes, with no re-wiring required. When you’re ready to configure, it’s also all done wirelessly, allowing you to group and regroup fixtures in seconds with a mobile app for most systems.

But what about the misconception that LLLC technology is a huge investment? Because every fixture has everything you need right out of the box, there’s actually a relatively low barrier to getting started – giving you the ability to make incremental lighting upgrades. Try LLLC out in one space before completing a whole building upgrade, if you’re looking for a smaller initial investment. And, without huge infrastructure investments like re-wiring, you’re giving yourself the ability to expand or change things up down the road.

All of this is in addition to the energy savings and occupant benefits you can expect from this lighting upgrade. Depending on the space type, projects can save up to 75% more in energy costs than traditional lighting systems. For example, a business park in Seattle made the switch to LLLC and one of its tenants saved $7,500 on utility bills in the first year alone. And better quality of light means happier, more productive tenants.

Lastly, as with every big project, it’s important to check for available incentives from your local utility. Especially in the Pacific Northwest, utilities are offering big incentives for LLLC upgrades – often between $45 and $100 per fixture, lowering your upfront cost.  

Taking all of this into consideration, you may find that the upfront cost for this technology is actually comparable to other systems – not to mention anticipated savings down the road with a smarter, more efficient and human-centric building design. 

Wolgamott is senior product manager for the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance. He can be reached at [email protected]

About the Author

Chris Wolgamott

Chris Wolgamott has worked in the energy efficiency industry for over 20 years. As a senior product manager, he helps the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance engage utilities, manufacturers, and distributors to bring new and tested energy efficient products into the market. He is a certified energy manager and a certified demand-side management professional and frequently presents on the future of lighting controls across the country, serving on the Next Generation Lighting Systems’ Connected Lighting Advisory Group.

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