How can lighting control benefit the electrical wholesaler?

Tony Biggs, Senior Manager, European OEM & UK Electrical Wholesaler Sales, Lutron Electronics, argues that wholesalers can add value and increase the value of their clients’ projects with the latest LEDs and lighting controls technology.

The lighting industry is going through rapid change encompassing technology adoption, building and system integration, price erosion and smart enabled devices.

The developments have seen the incandescent lamp that survived for over 100 years banned, and have lead to migration towards LED. In fact, LED is now accounting for an ever-growing significant percentage of the market. For example, at LuxLive in November it was almost impossible to find any lighting technology other than LED, which is being increasingly presented alongside controls across manufacturers.

LED technology has delivered great advances in control, energy efficiency, lighting scheme design and installation. However, it has also created challenges of dimming, stock rotation, pricing management and margin opportunity.

Key reasons why the controls market is growing include:

  1. Although LEDs are efficient, there is no need to light a space when no one is using it. Simple controls such as a presence detector will save even more energy
  2. End clients need to reduce costs while saving energy, adding flexibility of space, improving space utilisation, increasing staff productivity and increasing rental opportunities
  3. Legislation and building best practices are driving and supporting adoption with building regulation, setting standards for the energy performance of new and existing buildings in UK
  4. LED price erosion. More lighting manufacturers, wholesalers and installers are embracing controls to add project value and margin to their projects
  5. Needing to increase control. Often when updating from fluorescent to LED panels, spaces are over lit while their usage is frequently changing, which controls can help with

It is time for wholesalers to get on board with lighting controls, helping their clients add value to their projects through presenting the benefits often supported by leading brands such as: published LED dimming compatibility, supporting with ROI calculations, recommending finance solutions, and proposals for building management system (BMS) opportunities.

Getting clients to consider lighting control as part of their projects

A question that Lutron is often asked by wholesalers is how to get clients to consider lighting control in their products. Wholesalers can bring lighting control into the conversation by asking clients a few simple questions:

  1. Are LEDs still efficient when they stay on even when no one is in a space?
  2. Do LEDs need to stay on when the sun is shining and already too bright?
  3. Is the purpose of a space frequently changing and do they have to rewire lighting circuits accordingly?
  4. Does a space have multiple uses requiring different light levels for different occasions?
  5. Has LED dimming ever been in the past a challenge for them?

Should they answer negatively to the first two questions, or positively to the latter three, then clients should consider controls as part of their projects.

Clients will be reassured to know that, whatever the current trends in lighting control are, the lighting control industry is not new. Actually, this industry was born in the US when Joel Spira invented the first solid-state dimmer in 1959.

Spira’s initial target market was the homeowner, with a unique promise of efficient lighting and… romance! Since then, the list of applications made possible by lighting control technologies has grown fast and lighting control is now frequently used in the commercial, residential and hospitality sectors.

In the commercial sector, smart buildings are being heavily promoted regarding the benefits of energy saving, staff well-being and productivity. In the residential sector, smart home integration for lighting, heating and security has been driven by the uptake of voice control through Alexa, Siri and Google Home devices. And in the hospitality domain, lighting control is everywhere spanning guestrooms, back offices and public spaces.

All of the above are tangible opportunities for electrical wholesalers to expand their position as a knowledge resource to contractors and installers, resulting in added revenue and customer retention.

One main competitor: the light switch

Since the early days when Joel Spira and Lutron invented the category, other brands have entered the lighting control industry, some specialising by sector, application or project size. Still, the whole industry has one main competitor: the light switch. Each time a light switch is being used, there is a missed opportunity to provide a better solution thanks to lighting control.

When working with a client, wholesalers need to be able to explain lighting controls benefits over the traditional light switch. This means that they should be able to answer the question of ‘Why does the light switch still exist?’

The answer comes from a mix of reasons including budget, awareness, solutions knowledge and maintenance charges. On new installations, lighting is typically one of the last elements to be installed, so is value-engineered out to save on over expenditure elsewhere.

There is a lack of knowledge on the benefits that controls can add to the space flexibility, staff productivity and energy saving. The capabilities of control solutions to go wireless, bringing speed of installation and flexibility of placement supported by contractor-focused solutions, are not well-known.

Some lighting control systems still rely on manufacturer commissioning and tweaking only, resulting in some clients feeling ‘ransomed’ to call out charges. New solutions are contractor and user friendly, eliminating this risk.

The benefits of a lighting control strategy against light switches are all the more noticeable in commercial buildings, where lighting accounts for approximately 20% of the energy bill. It has been estimated that simple control strategies such as presence detection, timeouts, ‘daylight harvesting’ and ‘high-end trim’ (i.e. trimming the excess light) can save over 60% of the energy used for lighting, which combined with LEDs, can result in significant cost savings.

Other benefits of controls are that dimming extends maintenance intervals. In commercial environments, ‘auto emergency’ testing which saves the labour of checking the battery life and integration with heating, ventilation, and air conditioning (HVAC) systems can deliver huge additional system energy savings.

Contractors see wholesalers as a key source of knowledge, expertise and advice. This means that the wholesaler’s role is crucial to unleash the business potential of lighting control for contractors. The role of the manufacturer is therefore to support their wholesaler branch partners at the country level, through training covering sales strategy, technology and product knowledge.

Legislation and building best practices

The UK Government is driving the market through building requirements and incentives along with independent ‘best practices’, all impacting the market. Each of them supports lighting controls, providing opportunities for wholesalers to train, add value and sell products to deliver client value.

These important initiatives are covering multiple topics such as: requirements on installations, tax offset on energy efficiency products that meet specification guidelines, best practices to build better buildings, lightbulb phase-out or energy efficiency for property rental.

For all of the above, wholesalers can add value and increase the value of their clients’ projects. If unsure, there is always help at hand from the Lutron side.

What types of controls exist, and where can they be used?

  1. Standalone Simple – from a simple dimmer to control LED lights or combined with a presence detector to control lights with motion, can incorporate ‘daylight harvesting’
  2. Standalone Scene – Creating scenes through combination of lighting circuits, ideal for boardrooms, restaurants, residential applications, where lighting improves the performance of the space, adds ambience etc.
  3. Area / Floor – Simple building systems are now being designed and commissioned by the contractor as use wireless technology so can be retrofitted. Allow for switching, dimming and integration with HVAC, via BACnet
  4. Building Wide – Larger scale, cover integration with other systems and often now ‘Big Data’ collation
  5. Home Controls – Smart devices and integration with thermostats, security, heating, voice control devices etc.

Pictured above and below, examples of Lutron lighting control installations in an office and boardroom.