Cree introduces smarter lighting control system

dranii@newsobserver.comFebruary 4, 2014 

— Cree is hoping to accelerate adoption of LED lights by businesses with an easier-to-use system for automatically turning off lights when a space isn’t occupied and dimming lights when sunlight is streaming through windows.

The SmartCast Technology, which the Durham LED maker is launching Tuesday, can reduce energy use for businesses and other commercial customers by 40 percent – on top of the up to 50 percent energy savings already provided by LED lights compared to conventional lights, said Greg Merritt, vice president of marketing.

“Traditionally, lighting control systems have been very complicated to design (and) install, perhaps even more so to operate,” Merritt said. “What we are bringing to market with this product offering ... removes those barriers.”

SmartCast, said Tom Hinds, product portfolio manager, “actually programs itself.”

Installation is “as simple as putting in the fixtures and dimmers you’re used to putting in. No extra wires, no extra boxes,” he said. Once the fixtures and dimmers are installed, pressing a single button on a device configures the lights.

As for the price tag, “we’re really looking at a system that could be half the cost of traditional lighting control systems today,” Hinds said.

Although only a small fraction of U.S. commercial buildings have lighting control systems, a handful of states led by California have adopted energy-efficient building codes that are pushing businesses to install these systems in new buildings and when buildings are renovated, he said.

Cree is betting that a better lighting control system will boost the market for LED lights that are a small but fast-growing part of the lighting market, thanks to their energy efficiency and long life expectancy, which compensates for higher upfront costs.

Cree makes LED light bulbs and indoor and outdoor light fixtures, as well as components other companies use in their lighting products. The SmartCast technology can be used with three different types of Cree ceiling lights.

“We’ll also have a small interface device that lets you control other Cree luminaires (that is, lights) and other people’s luminaires where it makes sense,” Hinds said.

N.C. State University and Lord Corp. – a Cary company that produces specialty adhesives, coatings and electronics – recently began using SmartCast lighting systems before their launch.

Lord installed 120 Cree lighting fixtures controlled by SmartCast at its headquarters.

“Overall, they are working quite well,” said John Gardiner, facilities manager at the company’s Cary site.

Although Cree set up the system, Gardiner anticipates after observing the process that Lord workers will be able to easily reprogram the system themselves if they add additional lights.

By contrast, he said, Lord has other light control systems where it has to call in an outside technician for reprogramming whenever it expands the system or makes other changes. That’s because a central control panel controls the overall system, Gardiner said.

At North Residence Hall on the N.C. State campus, SmartCast was installed in the lobby, a break room and a computer lab.

“I think it’s real promising technology,” said Pete Fraccaroli, facilities manager of campus life at N.C. State.

“The lights are smart enough that they recognize when the room is occupied and when it’s not,” Fraccaroli said. “It’s able to identify how much light is being provided by natural light outside and adjust the lighting levels accordingly on that light fixture so you can save energy that way as well.”

Fraccaroli added that SmartCast is especially useful when retrofitting older buildings because it can control lights on different lighting circuits, he said.

Ranii: 919-829-4877

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