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The Smart Office - Charge of the lighting brigadeJanuary 2017

Henry Lawson, Market Research Consultant, BSRIA Worldwide Market Intelligence

Light shines into the heart of most human experience. Our moods are light or dark or dull. It is no coincidence that in the Genesis account of the beginnings of the world, light appears on the ‘first day’, before land or sea.

So it’s no surprise that it has been known or suspected for a long time that changes in the strength and quality of light are likely to affect people’s moods and their productivity at work. The famous Hawthorne studies, which started in the 1920s began to confirm this, though they also coined the famous “Hawthorne effect”, where the mere fact of studying people changes their behaviour.

It is therefore all the more surprising that it has taken so long for lighting and its impact on comfort to be fully recognised as a key factor when designing and managing building systems. Much of the focus has been to drastically reduce the energy consumed by lighting from the conversion to low energy lighting such as LEDs, or in switching lights off in unoccupied areas.

BSRIA studies have confirmed the rapid growth in lighting controls. For example a recent study of the French lighting market in non-residential buildings projected growth of almost 15 per cent, per annum in 2013 – 2017. This is almost double the projected growth rate in the market for lamps and almost 10 times the growth rate for luminaires. These, as mature markets, tend to follow the cycles in construction. BSRIA research in North America has shown a similar rate of growth for light controls.

As in other areas, it looks as if the small but rapidly growing market for smart homes solutions is having an impact on non-residential buildings. BSRIA’s earlier studies which looked at the market in 2010 and 2012 showed that lighting was the most valuable sector in most of the countries studied, often by a wide margin.

BSRIA’s current research to update these studies suggests that, while other concerns such as security are catching up, lighting remains important and is increasingly integrated with blinds, energy management and security.

In commercial buildings, there is increasing emphasis on employee comfort, and its tangible effects on performance. Studies have suggested that lighting, like temperature and air freshness all have an impact on people’s satisfaction and productivity. A study conducted by 360 Magazine earlier this year suggested that in the UK 32 per cent of office workers are unhappy with the light intensity and only 21 per cent have any control over it.

It is also increasingly recognised that a “one size fits all” approach will not be enough. As anyone who has ever worked in an open office will know, different people have different sweet spots. There’s little point in changing the lighting to suit the 32 per cent if that simply causes problems for the remaining 68 per cent. And the same person may prefer different light levels for different tasks.

Smart technology offers potentially limitless potential for individuals to ‘customise” their own preferred levels of light and temperature. Solutions already exist where an app on a user’s smartphone can connect via Bluetooth to lighting controls and automatically adjust the lighting to that user’s preference. This has the  added advantage that even if they have to work in a “hot desking” environment, they can, to some extent, carry their own personal environment around with them, especially as there are similar smart-phone connected solutions that allow you to set your own temperature.

And of course, the simple perception of having more personal control will generally have a positive effect on  morale. A further benefit is that, as many individuals will want to reduce light levels, there is quite likely to be a net saving in energy.

This leads us to anticipate certain clear trends for the future. The first is that the market for lighting controls in the non-residential market will continue to grow significantly faster than that for Building Automation Control Systems (BACS) in general, which is a fairly mature market, tending to grow in low single digits, heavily influenced by overall trends in construction and refurbishment.

The second is that the advanced lighting control solutions that have spearheaded much of the early growth in smart homes will make further inroads into the non-residential markets, offering big opportunities both for the market leaders in smart lighting and for more niche suppliers.

To keep up with this trend, BACS manufacturers will need to make sure that their solutions offer the opportunity for individual users to create their own ecosystem.

Climate change is not a problem that we will crack any time soon, but we should at least be able to look forward to an office where we can make our own weather.