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“Digital transformation leaders will no longer view buildings merely as places to shelter employees from the elements but will use them to support heightened employee productivity and tools for business growth,” predicts Andrew Hewitt of Forrester Research.

In late April, one such “digital transformation leader,” Philips Lighting, launched a new wireless connected lighting system aimed at today’s $5 billion global office lighting systems market. The Philips InterAct Office system enables building managers to reduce energy use by up to 70%, optimize operations and create a more comfortable environment without major office renovation.

The system, which encompasses lamps and luminaires equipped with sensors, is installed and operated by Philips Lighting as a managed service, removing the need for customers to make upfront capital investments. This will no doubt be attractive for cash-strapped companies looking to be part of the energy efficiency movement and gain from the human benefits that smart lighting promises; health, comfort and productivity.

“Our new system delivers instant energy savings and requires no upfront investment from customers who pay an easy monthly payment funded by the savings,” said Emmanuel Sabonnadiere, CEO of Philips Lighting’s Professional business. “However, energy savings are just the tip of the iceberg. Our ‘Light as a Service’ model frees customers to focus on their business, while information from sensors in the luminaires gives them unique insights into the use of energy and office space to enhance operational efficiencies.”

Essentially, a network of sensors triggers the system to switch or dim the lights and gathers granular data, such as energy use and room occupancy, which is then displayed on a dashboard. Phillips calculates that if all offices in North America were updated with this technology by 2030, it could save businesses a collective $6.4 billion on energy, equivalent to the output of 36 medium-sized power stations or Co2 emissions of 44 million tons.

While this 100% market share example is rather overly bold, the fact that one of the most established names in the sector is promoting a lighting-as-a-service offering is significant. If and when, other players, big and small, follow suit, we may well see the kind of energy efficiency that shuts down power stations and prevents tens of millions of tons of Co2 reaching our already suffocated atmosphere.

And there’s more. Whereas Phillips previous Power over Ethernet (PoE) connected lighting system offering was aimed at new build facilities and offices undergoing deep renovation; the wireless Philips InterAct Office is designed for retrofitting existing offices, which form the vast majority of office lighting projects worldwide. While PoE provides superior data bandwidth and control sophistication, the wireless package could well suffice for many offices. Indeed in our 2015 report Smart Buildings: The Lighting Controls Business 2015 to 2020 we identified the lighting retrofit market as one of the key areas that could benefit from wireless technology.

However, with Philips InterAct Office, real estate owners don’t have to rip out and replace existing cabling. The system uses wireless gateways to connect the lamps and luminaires. Information acquired by sensors in the luminaires, be it light level, occupancy or energy consumption is encrypted, then processed and stored securely in the cloud, as well as being presented on the customer’s dashboard. Being cloud-based and modular, the system is highly scalable and can be controlled or monitored from anywhere in the world.

Whereas Phillips uses Bluetooth in their visible light communication (VLC) applications for indoor-positioning, deployed in numerous retail locations. The Dutch firm chose ZigBee communication chips over Bluetooth as its wireless technology for InterAct LED ceiling lights and luminaires because it has a longer range that is more suitable for offices. ZigBee also enables direct and wireless control of lights using phones, tablets or other devices.

“The PoE solution we have is aimed specifically at those large renovations of offices where they redo the entire caving and rip and replace the ceiling and so forth; and it’s ideal for new buildings,” a Philips spokesperson explained. “In contrast, the wireless Philips InterAct Office is designed for retrofitting existing offices, which form the vast majority of office lighting projects worldwide.”

The combination of lighting-as-a-service and wireless design is what makes this news so significant and far-reaching. With little or no capital expenditure, an office can retrofit its lighting and gain all the advantages that a high-end smart lighting system offers. In contrast to PoE systems, wireless lighting-as-a-service has the potential to reach a much bigger market, pleasing both Phillips and those concerned with reducing overall energy consumption.

“With [PoE] being more tailored towards new build and deep renovation, however, typically there is a capex budget available, whereas in retrofit there might not be, and this is where we believe the wireless service offering hits a large target market,” Philips’ head of office lighting systems, Derek Wright.

Philips is initially targeting InterAct Office at North America, where it says there are 15 billion ft2 of existing office space. The firm, however, did not reveal pricing, nor did it identify any actual customers. The move, it seems, not only pits Phillips against other lighting companies but puts them into the information technology and building automation arena, in competition with smart building products and services.

Jeff Cassis, senior vice president of end user sales for Philips’ Professional unit in the US, noted that sensor-equipped smart lights could detect a number of activities other than lighting. He described the new LED light as an “edge device that happens to be a luminaire, and it has the ability to talk and be smart.”

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