PoE Lighting is actually power over Ethernet low voltage LED lighting. It is an alternative to traditional lighting design for commercial buildings. PoE lighting is a recent evolution in efficiencies based on technology, in this case, IoT (Internet of Things).
Since our first project in 1998, low voltage cabling, in one form or another, has been the predominant signal transport medium for Information Transport Systems. Historically predominate applications for low voltage cables have included telephones, TV, PCs (cabled and wireless), security, POS, and audiovisual systems. It is time to add lighting to that list.
Low voltage lighting has been around for over 50 years. Initially, it started in landscaping but soon moved inside homes and businesses to provide recessed lighting, under cabinet lighting, and various other applications where the smaller filament, reduced bulb size, and lower heat loads provided a more safe and energy-efficient approach to lighting.
It is worth noting that the lighting from a low voltage bulb does not sacrifice the illumination of the bulb. Required luminance levels can be achieved using either traditional or low voltage lighting. While the lower voltage provides benefits, there are other reasons why a low voltage lighting solution is becoming more attractive.
To explain why PoE Lighting lighting is making its way into greater usage after having been around for over half a century requires that we start with a few basics.
Two Types of Power – Line Voltage and Low Voltage
Line voltage is the standard 120-volt electrical power source. It is the power source for typical power outlets within homes and offices. Low voltage as an alternate power source, requiring less than 30 volts of power to operate, is making great strides as a viable alternative to traditional line voltage lighting in commercial buildings.
Two (common) Types of Lighting Lamps
The traditional incandescent bulb has been around since about 1880. In recent years, the LED bulb has been aggressively promoted based upon its benefits of the lower cost of electrical usage and its comparative longevity.
The incandescent bulb is filament based. Light is emitted when current flows through the filament; however, a lot of power is lost to heat. In contrast, LEDs are Light Emitting Diodes, a semiconductor material (like in transistors) that produces light when current flows. Therefore, very little energy is lost to heat. As an example of this efficiency, a 20W LED lamp can give off as much light as a 200W halogen bulb.
Two Types of Low Voltage Design
DLVP (Distributed Low Voltage Power) is the traditional way of delivering low voltage power. A DLVP system utilizes standard line voltage and an AC to DC converter to provide the lights' power. Lighting control occurs at the "zone" level – definable dependent upon the number of bulbs or fixtures connected within the zone.
PoE (Power over Ethernet) is the newer alternative method, a completely low voltage system. A PoE lighting system can carry data and power to the light bulb. This data transport feature provides a means of monitoring and controlling each bulb. With the right type of LED fixture, the colors of individual lights can be changed on demand using a controller or software platform via the internet from anywhere that an internet connection is available.
LED light bulbs have been in homes for years. They cost more to purchase but last quite a bit longer than a traditional incandescent bulb, so they do not have to be changed bulbs as often. They also emit less heat than an incandescent bulb. For commercial low voltage lighting implementations, each of these benefits can be far more attractive given the facility's size, and therefore the number of bulbs within it.
In addition to saving money and energy, low voltage lighting has functional advantages over 120v lighting. These benefits are tied to the advances in technology, which has allowed management of the facility's bulbs.
The Intelligent Building and "The Internet of Things"
An Intelligent Building is a building that integrates technology and process to create a facility that is safer, more comfortable, and more productive. Over time there has been an increasing number of identifiable endpoints in the buildings which can be controlled by technology. (Light bulbs are the endpoints with regard to this article.) These endpoints are equipped with technology (chips), allowing communication with them to deliver commands and collect information (data). Some of these technologies have been in place for years, while others become available as the technology continues to evolve. Examples of available applications today in the intelligent building network include access control, climate sensors, IP phones, occupancy sensors, security cameras (CCTV), sound masking, wireless access points… and now the subject of this article, low voltage LED lighting.
Advancement continues because of the increasing ability to remotely control electronic devices from anywhere (via the cloud) in conjunction with the ever-smaller intelligent chip, which can now be connected to those devices. Nanny cams and remote security apps for cell phones are both examples of these advances in technology. Most recently, industry experts refer to this as "The Internet of Things." As it applies here, the intelligence has reached beyond the traditional wall mount lighting control, past the lighting fixture, and to the individual light bulb.
There are many opinions on the benefits of low voltage LED lighting, with claims of energy and cost savings, which vary. The benefits below are in two categories owners, operators, and building managers most often consider when evaluating a "new" system – Total Cost of Ownership and Functional benefits.
Total Cost of Ownership
The benefits listed below are clarified as coming from either the low voltage power source or the actual LED bulb. Some of these claims compare a low voltage LED lighting solution to a line voltage incandescent implementation. While such a comparison does provide great benefits, the objective here is to isolate and clarify the benefits of changing to a low voltage system. The LED benefits can be, and are, being realized with existing line voltage power.
Lower Energy Consumption – Claims of savings vary widely because of the comparison of a line voltage incandescent bulb to a low voltage LED bulb. In such a comparison, the LED bulb represents the majority of the savings. Although the lower power requirement is not an insignificant consideration, it is not the major reason why PoE low voltage systems are being considered.
Lower Energy Costs – The energy efficiency results in lower costs, of course, and that savings will be closely aligned with the reduction in energy consumption.
Longer Life Span – A low voltage LED bulb will last longer than the traditional 120-volt line voltage incandescent bulb. However, this benefit is not related to the power source. That is, the savings from LED bulbs can be realized regardless of the power source.
Reduced Heat Contribution – Whether inline LED or low voltage LED, the bulb will emit less heat. As is the case with the "longer life span" above, this benefit is not related to the power source.
The benefits which are driving more low voltage lighting into commercial developments are the functional benefits. They are presented below under two headings.
Versatility – The versatility of low voltage lighting provides alternatives for lighting needs that are not available with the 120v lighting. The base reason for this is the smaller filament. Low voltage lighting needs to carry only 12 volts instead of 120 volts. This allows for a smaller filament, which translates to a smaller bulb. The benefits of this are realized whether you use a DLVP or PoE solution. They include:
Custom Lighting Solutions – The reduced size of the bulb provides the ability to create custom fixtures or solutions (under cabinets, along a walkway, or a host of others), which cannot be offered with a larger bulb.
Beam Targeting/Spread – The smaller filament of low voltage lighting allows for better targeting of the light beam. The larger 120v bulbs are harder to direct without having some light' spill out of" a target zone. If the objective is to illuminate a specific object or area, low voltage lighting can be a better solution.
It is worth saying that these benefits can be realized with either a DLVP or PoE design.
Control Systems – The ability to control an LED light bulb is the greatest benefit of a PoE low voltage LED solution. A PoE solution offers the ability to control a light bulb's status (off, on, dim) on a timer or even change its color from inside the room or from a remote location (versus DLVP, which provides the low voltage lighting without the communication benefit.) With a low voltage cable (CAT 6, for example), the control moves from a wall switch or specific fixture to the individual bulb, which allows control of that bulb. The combination of these two benefits (versatility and control of the bulb) allows for the flexibility to install lighting anywhere, which you can control from anywhere.
Safety – While this is a legitimate benefit, the professional teams in a commercial installation may perceive it as a minimal one, unlike a homeowner using low voltage lighting for under cabinet lighting in his kitchen, for example.
You might ask why technology consultants are writing about low voltage lighting. The answer lies in the PoE power source. There are multiple DLVP implementations in projects where we designed the low voltage cabling infrastructure, including audio visual and security systems for that property, but we didn't design the DLVP lighting system since those systems are powered by the line voltage (via an AC to DC transformer), and were not part of our scope.
As full lighting systems become desirable for the versatility and the functional benefits of controlling the light bulb, PoE lighting systems will become much more prevalent. And that PoE low voltage lighting system will provide the ability to control every bulb in every room and every area within the facility or across the campus. And in baseball terms, that is right in our wheelhouse.