LED lighting

Smart buildings: Is PoE lighting ready for prime time?

As companies look to reduce their environmental impact and make financial savings, smart buildings have become a more common sight. PoE lighting is a new technology that makes smart lighting systems easier to install and cheaper to run – but is the technology ready for the mainstream?

What is a smart building?

The idea of smart buildings date back to the 1980s, with United Technology Building Systems coining the term  “intelligent buildings” in 1981. These original smart buildings centralised control of heating, ventilation, and airflow, but lacked the automations that we now consider key to any smart system.

Today, a smart building uses automated processes to seamlessly control those same building operations of heating, ventilation, and airflow, but also include security systems, lighting, and more. Modern smart buildings feel almost like living organisms in that they react to external factors such as heat, humidity, sunlight, and critically the number of people inside, where they are and what they are doing.

The idea behind smart buildings today are designed to reduce energy use, optimizes space utilisation, and critically minimise environmental impact. If heating and lights are only switched on when people are in specific rooms and temperatures are below a certain level, then that can make huge energy savings, which is good both for a company’s bottom line and the environment.

What is PoE lighting?

Lighting consumes a significant amount of energy, and so an automated system that controls the lighting within a building is attractive to any company looking to save money and improve their green credentials.

Most businesses are already moving towards LED lighting systems over the traditional incandescent or halogen bulbs which wasted significant amounts of energy as heat. In general, these LED bulbs can be simple exact replacements for their halogen counterparts, but for companies that want to make their systems both smarter and more efficient then a PoE (power over ethernet) lighting system is an increasingly popular solution.

Ethernet technology has been used in the IT sector for decades, connecting up PCs, switches, and routers to the data network. However, by providing power and data over the same connection, wiring together a smart lighting system suddenly becomes significantly easier and less expensive.

Rather than needing to connect lights to the mains power and then somehow control them via smart WiFi-connected bulbs or other technology, PoE means that the LED lights are connected only by a single ethernet cable, which is significantly more reliable. And, with PoE and LEDs both relying on DC power, there is no energy loss from changing between AC and DC, meaning such a system is easier to install and maintain and cheaper to run.

PoE was originally launched back in 2003, but with the technology only capable of delivering 15.4W per port, it was difficult to use for lighting systems which need more power to light a room. The latest standard, 802.3bt, was adopted in late 2018, and has made PoE lighting a reality with the ability for the network to carry 60W per port (Type 3) and 90W per port (Type 4) by using all four pairs of a PoE cable.

Simple ethernet connectivity will make it easier than ever to crate smart systems, with lights, sensors, thermostats, and security systems and more all connected with single cables and more easily automated through a single wired system. It is the future, and with as the standards improve and offer more power delivery through the same single connection, more complex and environmentally-friendly systems are finally within reach.

Photograph by Zachary DeBottis

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