LED lighting promises opportunity for structured cabling professionals

A wave of potential opportunity for the complete supply chain of structured cabling systems—manufacturers, distributors, system designers...

From the July, 2012 Issue of Cabling Installation & Maintenance Magazine

Lighting, always the domain of electrical systems and installers, has become a possible revenue stream for cabling-system installers while also opening up avenues of building-system intelligence.

by Patrick McLaughlin

A wave of potential opportunity for the complete supply chain of structured cabling systems—manufacturers, distributors, system designers, installers and users—has arisen recently in the form of building lighting. One company in particular, which may be a new name to many in the industry, has led the campaign with the introduction of a system that promises the aforementioned opportunity.

Redwood Systems (www.redwoodsystems.com), a Silicon Valley-based company whose executives are pedigreed in local area networking, offers a system of light-emitting diode (LED) building lighting that is designed to operate over an infrastructure not of the typical electrical wiring, but rather of twisted-pair Category 5e and Category 6 structured cabling. Rather than using the traditional alternating current (AC) power, Redwood's system uses direct current (DC), which allows the system to operate over twisted-pair cabling.

Redwood has teamed up with Anixter (www.anixter.com) as its distribution partner and with CommScope (www.commscope.com) as a provider of the cabling infrastructure that can support the LED lighting. Redwood's co-founder and chief executive officer Dave Leonard commented, "Every business is as dependent on innovating its channel as it is on innovating its product. A key to our success is having great relationships with the low-voltage ecosystem, from companies like CommScope and Anixter and the contractors they represent. We've chosen this path to market and an architecture that uses this type of infrastructure. We were aware enough to pay attention to the ecosystem of low-voltage structured cabling systems. We're very excited about it."

Before becoming a Redwood co-founder, Leonard was vice president and general manager of Cisco Systems' desktop switching business unit. That unit of Cisco created switching systems for local area network (LAN) access, metro Ethernet and industrial Ethernet, as well as data center blade servers. Redwood's other co-founder and chief technology officer, Mark Covaro, has been a system architect and designer, having done engineering work for companies including Cray Research, Applied Micro Devices and Cisco.

Significant opportunities

The ability to support a lighting system with communications-cabling infrastructure may be considered groundbreaking. Redwood Systems is quick to point out that the use of such cabling as the wiring infrastructure provides additional benefits as well, particularly in the form of monitoring capability. Part of the Redwood system is a high-density sensor network, which can enable a range of smart-building applications that can include temperature mapping, space-use reporting and security alerts. Thanks in large part to the presence of communications cabling, these systems can integrate with existing building systems.

Luc Adriaenssens, senior vice president of technology in the CTO office of CommScope, provided significant detail on the technological development of LED lighting systems and how that development is now coming to fruition in the form of this Redwood system. "LEDs are not new and have been around for decades, but there has been extremely rapid advancement of LED lighting efficiency," he said. "LEDs have been more efficient than incandescent lights for some time, but were still less efficient than fluorescents. So fluorescents have been used in office lighting. But LEDs have caught up to fluorescents in efficiencies, and there is complete alignment from the lighting industry that LEDs are the lighting source of the future."

In fact, he also explained, LEDs are favorable over fluorescents with respect to the efficiencies associated with dimming capability. Some more-expensive versions of fluorescent lighting can be dimmed, Adriaenssens said, but in many of those cases costs increase and efficiencies decrease. With LEDs, the opposite holds true; dimming LED lighting is easily accomplished, and because the circuitry needed to accomplish this capability is minimal, dimming is a feature that adds very little cost to an LED lighting system.

The inner circuitry of an LED lighting system also lends itself to the aforementioned additional capabilities. "Other capabilities can be built on the circuit board," he said. "Voltage regulators and temperature sensors are examples. The potential is limited only by the imagination and the time required to implement. That's what makes LEDs exciting in terms of new opportunities to change lighting from a simple, low-tech, on-off environment to one in which control and sophistication can be added cost-effectively."

Implementing similar capabilities with standard lighting systems also is possible, Adriaenssens pointed out. In those situations, he explained, "There is one cable to provide the AC power, then a second cabling system to provide controls. The key benefit with LED being a lower-voltage source, users can power LEDs with low-voltage cabling, and run controls on the same cabling. With a low-voltage system in place, you have a much more sophisticated standard communication channel, whether you're dealing with kilobits all the way up to Megabits."

Financial considerations

Implementing an LED lighting system that runs over communications cabling does of course require a capital investment. In this case, as in many others, a premium in capital expenditure can be more than offset by savings in operating expenses, thereby providing total-cost-of-ownership benefits. Even then, the capital expenses can vary. Adriaenssens noted, "In an apples-to-apples comparison, the capital expenditure for an LED lighting system with a lot of functionality is greater than that for a basic fluorescent system," that does little if any more than meet code. "For little additional capex, with the LED system users gain efficiencies and saved opex."

The operating functions of sophisticated LED systems that lead to lower operating expenses for building owners are several. Adriaenssens then pointed out an everyday example: "Sitting in my office, bright daylight is coming in and the lights are on. With more sophisticated systems, lights closer to windows are dimmed to a greater degree than lights that are farther into the room. With fluorescent systems, you can put daylight sensors in each fixture, but they are not integrated."

He then commented on the relative permanence of a building structure, but the dynamic nature of much of what resides in the structure. "Modern buildings are designed for upwards of 40 years. The structure of the building is put up and meant to be in place for approximately that amount of time. But over the life of the building, what is defined as an office, a conference room, an open area, et cetera, tends to change significantly. Office walls change. It is relatively easy to move office walls around, or take down a wall to make a space larger.

"As for lighting systems, when you walk into a room the lighting controls typically are set to one room. If you change the walls of an office, you have changed the room and must change the lighting system accordingly. With a networked LED system, these changes are software-based." An administrator can make a software adjustment to redefine which fixtures have daylight sensors or other capabilities activated. With these capabilities, "It is much easier to make changes, and equates to much lower cost over the life of a building. Those types of capabilities make a networked LED system attractive."

Use in data centers

So far the Redwood Systems technology has been implemented by users who could be characterized as early adopters, but Adriaenssens says the shift is on from that early-adopter customer set to the mass market. One early adopter was Fenwick & West, LLP, a law firm that built the system into its data center in Mountain View, CA. Redwood highlights this installation on its website.

"The firm achieved centralized control of the data center's lighting, with easy web-based access, improved light quality and increased visibility into the facility's energy usage," Redwood said. "The system also complements the data center's energy-sensitive mechanical systems, which include cold-aisle containment and controlled air-flow management, helping the facility dramatically improve power usage effectiveness and attain Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification."

Fenwick & West's senior director of operations, facilities, Julie O'Loughlin, praised the technology choice. "We selected the Redwood platform for our data center because it offered a highly advanced and cost-effective way to control our lighting environment, and provided rich insight into the building's performance. The network's innovative features, including sensor-based lighting and advanced data generation, give us the tools we need as we fulfill our commitment to aggressively driving down our energy use across our buildings nationwide."

The recently approved TIA-942-A standard may be a spur that prompts other data center owners to deploy lighting systems with these capabilities, like Fenwick & West did. The revised data center cabling standard includes specifications for a three-level lighting protocol based on occupancy and function. Specifically, according to the standard, lighting levels are minimal when the space is not occupied, providing enough illumination for video surveillance. Lighting levels increase when the room is entered to allow safe passage for the person(s) inside. And a higher level of lighting (500 lux.) is specified for an occupied room. Additionally, the 942-A standard recommends the use of energy-efficient lighting in data centers.

Two shades of green

A networked LED lighting system can be appealing to businesses that hold either, or both, perspectives on the concept of "green"—as in, environmentally friendly and/or the color of money. The case has been made for "a little more capex now for a lot more savings in the long run." And LEDs are widely recognized for their energy efficiency. The notions of energy savings and money savings frequently are intertwined, and this type of system is a case in point.

Taking it from a global perspective, the United States enjoys relatively low-cost electricity. Many European countries, on the other hand, do not. To that end, Redwood announced in May that it has expanded its business into Europe. As part of that expansion, Redwood also announced a deal with France's largest electric utility, EDF. Redwood's CEO Leonard commented, "It's interesting to me that the key power provider in France, with a large portfolio of nuclear plants, is so interested in energy-saving technology." In France, he explained, energy is less costly than in some neighboring countries. In a general sense, the more energy EDF saves—and gets its customers to save—the more it can sell to neighboring countries at a higher rate.

EDF has implemented Redwood Systems' technology in its innovation laboratories to determine the potential impact building-performance lighting solutions can have on its commercial customers. Assuming the trial is successful, EDF plan to implement the technology across facilities in its service area.

About the potential for broad appeal in Europe, Leonard commented, "Europe in general tends to have early adopters of building technologies. This is a new relationship that we can leverage to their clients. In any region of the world that has lower-priced electricity [such as France], it is important to have a partner that represents selling and distribution of that electricity. That is not so much the case in the U.K., where customers are motivated on their own" to implement energy-saving measures because of the more significant cost implications.

"Most of our market in Europe represents higher energy costs and higher awareness of sustainability and carbon reduction that is extremely important," Leonard added. "Carbon reduction and energy savings is an acute issue—one that has to be solved [in countries such as the U.K.], whereas in the U.S. it's a nice-to-have. It will get escalated in the U.S., but right now Europe is an area where we think the market is really going to shine for us."

Cabling considerations

In addition to the EDF deal, Redwood announced that it received the CE mark for meeting several European safety standards related to telecommunications and lighting. On that achievement, Leonard commented, "You just can't do business [in Europe] without meeting EMI and safety standards. Lighting has never fallen under Class 2 power rules. We can do that, which means there is no safety or fire threat from the power we deliver to the lights. That means the low-voltage contractor is able to install it."

Professionals in the cabling industry who install the cabling systems for lighting will face a familiar issue—whether to install Category 5e, Category 6 or even Category 6A cabling. CommScope's Adriaenssens weighed in: "Data capability, enhanced controls, plus the power lost over the run of the lighting system steers us toward Category 6 for these systems.

"One reason to use Category 6 is DC resistance," Adriaenssens explained. "The fact that you have more copper in the cable means lower DC resistance loss." Compare the cable to a hose with leaks. If the hose has small leaks, more water will make it out the end. If it has larger leaks, less water will. The water, in this case, is DC power.

Redwood Systems offers a technology set that holds promise to bring part of the lighting market to the doorstep of professionals in the structured cabling industry. The extent to which the cabling industry as a whole capitalizes on that promise remains to be seen. ::

Patrick McLaughlin is our chief editor.

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