Viewpoints

Microgrids use smart lighting control systems to enhance energy security, deliver savings

By Andy Wakefield

The challenge

As the national electrical grid shows increasing signs of instability, the interest in independent, reliable microgrids increases. At their core, microgrids work to reduce reliance on an increasingly frail external power supply and improve energy reliability. They help protect against typical power outages, as well as more malicious threats to supply such as hacking and potential cyber attacks.

Despite all these advantages there are risks associated with microgrids, such as vulnerability to energy fluctuation. Unusual demand may overwhelm the system, putting critical operations at risk.

The solution to ensuring supply and reducing demand

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’s) commitment to sustainability, and its three-step approach to ensuring a reliable energy supply:

  1. Reduce Demand
  2. Expand and secure energy supplies
  3. Build energy security into the Future Force

Major Joe Buccino, Fort Bliss spokesperson, explains that microgrids are essential to the future of military energy security, saying, “The tactical utility of this technology is its ability to allow us to operate off the grid. We are entering an age of emerging threats and cyber warfare. We are assuming an unacceptable measure of risk at fixed installations of extended power loss in the event of an attack on the fragile electric grid.”

Smart lighting control strategies help improve microgrid success

Lighting control systems save energy and money in all situations, but when properly planned and implemented, they can create significantly greater flexibility within a microgrid. Depending on the type of security threat, preset lighting scenarios can be programmed to react to a variety of crisis situations.

For example, one scenario may 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.

Lighting control is often overlooked in strategic plans despite that fact that automatic control strategies will typically deliver lighting electricity savings of 60 percent, effectively reducing total building electricity by 23 percent.

  • Digital dimming/High-end tuning – Digital fluorescent dimming ballasts can be used to reduce maximum light levels in a space by 30 percent – changes that are virtually undetectable to occupants because of the eye’s unique ability to changes in light.
  • Occupancy/vacancy sensing – Occupancy/vacancy sensors work to ensure that lights are not left on when a space is vacant, generally saving 20-60 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, typically contributing 25-60 percent lighting energy savings.

Achieving microgrid success goes well beyond power generation to controlling energy use and reducing energy demand with innovative strategies that save money, time, and resources.

Andy Wakefield is the director of government and OEM solutions for Lutron Electronics. In his current role, he is responsible for Lutron’s government, energy and OEM focused sales and marketing teams as well as its Washington, DC based operations.

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