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Delivering Savings and Security

Enhancing Microgrids through Smart Lighting Control Systems

Microgrids—as independent, decentralized power systems that provide a key pathway to self-sustainability—can only benefit from smart lighting control systems.


By Andy Wakefield, M.SAME 


At their core, energy microgrids in government facilities reduce reliance on an increasingly frail external power supply, improve energy reliability, and contribute to self-sustainable operations. They help protect against typical power outages caused by downed power lines, grid failure, and human error, as well as more malicious threats to supply such as hacking and potential cyber attacks.

Yet there are associated risks. As a finite source of power, microgrids are vulnerable to energy fluctuation. Unusual demand may overwhelm the system, putting operations at risk. To address the need for supplemental energy generation, fossil fuels and renewable energy sources such as solar, wind, and geo-thermal power are used. On the demand side, energy reduction strategies, including lighting control systems, not only make microgrids more reliable, they support the Department of Defense’s (DOD) commitment to meeting and exceeding federal energy legislation and executive orders.


Both energy savings and energy security are significant, strategic priorities for the DoD from a fiscal, operational, and tactical perspective. DOD's Operational Energy Strategy specifically defines a three-step approach to ensuring a reliable energy supply: R
educe Demand; 2) Expand and secure energy supplies; and 3) Build energy security into the Future Force.

While more efficient buildings, vehicles and processes work to address demand, energy microgrids are helping to ensure access and availability by reducing dependence on external power supplies. The military is fully committed to responsible energy use and reducing its carbon footprint—but it is even more critical that an installation’s key systems ensure reliable power delivery under all circumstances to sustain necessary, advanced operations. 


SmartLighting1Lighting control systems, when properly planned and implemented, can create significantly greater flexibility within a microgrid. Integrated dimming control allows the facility to reduce lighting energy use on demand, leading to greater confidence in the microgrid’s ability to supply necessary power and keep essential buidings or areas operational running during natural disasters, military operations, and other emergency situations.SmartLighting2

Depending on the type of security threat, preset lighting scenarios can be programmed to react to a variety of crisis situations, ensuring that the right lights always have power. For example, a system might increase lighting levels at the perimeter, maintain full lighting power in a medical facility, or ensure lighting to emergency exits and staging areas for first response, while reducing light levels in all non-essential areas. Balancing lighting energy helps to assure the efficacy of the microgrid’s power supply.SmartLighting3

Strategic planning, working with an experienced lighting control manufacturer, and carefully defining appropriate, preprogrammed lighting control responses allows lighting control systems to work in concert with microgrids to address power generation as well as demand-side control for both every day and emergency operation. Smart systems reduce error, improve performance and limit potential problems during an emergency.

A prominent example of energy-efficient design is the National Training Center at Fort Irwin, Calif., one of the first military bases to fully embrace sustainability across its installation. Fort Irwin currently uses energy-saving lighting control technologies and total light management strategies in dozens of buildings—reducing lighting energy use in these spaces by more than 35 percent. Implementation of the control protocols are now planned across the base, allowing the Army to closely monitor energy use at Fort. Irwin and to track energy and financial savings as it works toward the overall objective of transforming the base into a Net Zero energy consumer.


It cannot be overstated that lighting control design must be part of a rigorous planning process. Lighting control is often overlooked in strategic plans despite that fact that lighting is typically a building’s largest electricity consumer, accounting for some 38 percent of total building electricity use. Lighting control systems that incorporate automatic control strategies such as digital dimming, occupancy sensing and daylight sensing will typically deliver lighting electricity savings of 60 percent—effectively reducing total building electricity by 23 percent.

  • Digital dimming.  Spaces are often over-lit. Digital fluorescent dimming ballasts can be used to reduce maximum light levels in a space by 30 percent or more (a strategy often referred to as high-end trim). Because the human eye readily adapts to slight variations in ambient light, those changes are virtually undetectable to occupants, and yet they typically save 10 percent to 30 percent lighting electricity.
  • Occupancy/vacancy sensing. Occupancy/vacancy sensors work to ensure that lights are not left on when a space is vacant, generally saving 20 percent to 60 percent.
  • Daylight harvesting. In perimeter spaces, daylight sensors can be used to automatically adjust light levels based on the amount of daylight in the space. Daylight harvesting can be used to automatically contribute from 25 percent to 60 percent lighting energy savings.

NASA_smartlightingThe National Aeronautic and Space Administration’s (NASA) Propellants North Administrative and Maintenance Facility at Kennedy Space Center, Fla., is another excellent example of how these simple strategies can be used to effectively reduce electricity demand, and help both existing and future facilities achieve net-zero energy use. NASA’s design team on the Propellant’s North project focused on a building solution that can be easily measured and broadly applied, and does not take time away from the essential work in the facility. Moreover, the lighting system saves a lot of energy without requiring building occupants to put any thought or effort into helping do so.

Microgrids commonly work in concert with grid-based energy sources to provide essential energy generation during normal, day-to-day operations. During emergencies, or other situations that require the microgrid to supply all essential electricity, lighting controls can be programmed to shed load for maximum system efficiency, as part of an identified demand response protocol. Demand response strategies that focus on lighting control enable a facility to respond to load shed requests automatically, or at the touch of a button, ensuring that essential resources can remain focused on other operational priorities. An integrated lighting control system can incorporate load-shedding software to quickly and easily reduce the lighting load to a pre-programmed level.

While HVAC also can be an element in a load shedding strategy, lighting is an ideal component for load shedding because it consumes a substantial amount of electricity and because, unlike other systems, power reductions can be implemented gradually so that they go unnoticed by building occupants. The overarching goal of demand response is to keep the electricity supply at a steady and controllable state, while meeting the requirements of the facility, and not exceeding the capacity of the microgrid.


In military operations, especially in remote locations, relying on microgrids to provide essential power can save lives. Fossil fuels have to be transported in frequent fuel convoys putting military personnel and equipment at significant risk. Minimizing the demand for energy reduces base vulnerability and limits the risk of dangerous energy fluctuations. Self-generating power also limits defense dollars spent consuming energy.

Microgrids represent a move toward greater energy safety, security and independence for the military, and ultimately, for everyone served by the increasingly stressed power grid. Achieving microgrid success, however, goes well beyond power generation and just as importantly involves controlling energy use and reducing energy demand with innovative conversation strategies that save money, time and resources.



Andy Wakefield, M.SAME, is Director of Government and OEM Solutions, Lutron Electronics; This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it." target="_blank">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..