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    Power over Ethernet driving the next wave of LED-lit office buildings

    Nathan Johnson

    Most Australians are already familiar with Power over Ethernet (PoE) cables as they are commonly used to power wireless access points, IP telephones and other small network devices found around homes and office buildings. But soon PoEs could also see use in a completely new way; to power, monitor and control the lighting systems in our commercial office spaces.  

    PoE uses a single Category 5e (and more recently Category 6) cable to provide both data connection and electrical power to devices, meaning it can transport current and information across one easy-to-install system. As mentioned, PoE isn’t a new concept in building design but it has only just become compatible with lighting devices thanks to the ever-improving Light Emitting Diode (LED) technology.  

    LEDs are inherently low-voltage DC devices but to ensure compatibility with traditional AC power they require an AC-to-DC converter. PoE cables have surfaced as an efficient alternative for powering LED luminaires because they eliminate power conversion stages in a building, saving space, money and the need for an electrician.

    Currently, wiring up a new lighting system can be expensive and if you want digital control of your system you’ll also need to install an additional network of data wires up in the ceiling or a wireless device that can receive and transmit data.

    While PoE technology is seen as more streamlined alternative to traditional systems, it should be said though that both wireless and hardwired solutions have had proven success in the commercial building spaces. In Australia, companies such as Aurora, Organic Response, Diginet, Techome and Schneider Electric all offer automated lighting solutions that have the extra benefit of being compatible with third party luminaires and ones readily available to the Australian market.  

    Beyond the ease of install, one of the emphasised selling points of PoE lighting is its compatibility with software that can measure, monitor and control a project’s entire lighting suite. PoE lighting is therefore tipped to have its biggest effect on the commercial building space, where workplace design is becoming increasingly innovative, energy efficient and automated, and where building managers are constantly seeking new ways to improve their building’s performance.

    the-edge-amsterdam-worlds-most-sustainable-office-building.jpgThe Edge Amsterdam by PLP Architecture was awarded an "Outstanding" rating by BREEAM independent assessors and achieved the ratings system highest ever score of 98.36 per cent. It Uses Philips’ Ethernet-powered LED connected lighting for offices. Photography by Ronald Tilleman


    Data can aid building optimisation, and in recent history we’ve seen it used to streamline and manage building processes everywhere from building massing to managing the life-cycle maintenance of an entire building.

    When plugged into compatible software tools, a PoE system can collect and summarise heat mapping, energy and maintenance data from individual luminaries, allowing the building manager to monitor what spaces in the building are used most frequently and for what purpose. Some systems also allow the control of individual luminaires from a smartphone device so lights can be adjusted to suit personal preference.

    Philips Dynalite recently released their PoE Connected Lighting System and is marketing the product to building designers as well as owners and managers of office buildings.

    Like a lot of the new LED drivers on the market, Phillips’ PoE is a distributed intelligence lighting system where much of the local control is embedded in the individual fixtures themselves and the centralised server is installed for monitoring and over-ride control only.

    Philips-Power-Over-Ethernet-ConnectedLighting006-2.jpg

    Basically, each individual luminaire is fit a variety of sensors and operating mechanisms that redirect data through an Ethernet gateway and back to the Local Area Network (LAN) where it can be controlled and monitored.  

    While the sensor technology and operating capabilities of the Phillips system aren’t necessarily unique—many lighting manufacturers offer similar sensor and controlling capabilities—the difference is where and how the information from each luminaire is collected.

    The luminaires are essentially data points with their own IP address that help understand floor space ratios between open plan, quiet working areas, meeting rooms and social areas to ensure that floor plates and tenancies are balanced for optimal deployments.

    Stuart Kane from Philips Lighting Australia says the system will help building managers understand how their floorspace and office layouts are used, and how they can be improved.

    “Lighting fixtures provide occupancy data that facility managers can use to monitor energy efficiency,” explains Kane.

    “Each luminaire reports on its run time / operating hours, its energy usage and remaining expected life span. Also, users can modify lighting levels for specific tasks, which can mean that lighting levels are minimised.”

    “Power-over-Ethernet lighting technology enables the users of a space to gain insight into the occupancy of discrete areas and to maximise energy efficiency, which in turn can increase the value extracted from the use of the work space and decrease the cost of using that work space.”

    Some limitations:

    • Not all installed Ethernet in existing commercial buildings supports PoE
    • PoE is not compatible with existing hard wired or LED drivers
    • PoE is a bespoke, custom-build and client specific solution so is best incorporated at the beginning of a brand new lighting fitout

     

     

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