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Is PoE lighting and DC power set to transform the home control sector? CE Pro Europe speaks to experts in the field to see what lies ahead and how installers should prepare.

“2016 won’t be the year that we chuck traditional AC power for PoE lighting systems and giant in-home batteries like Tesla’s and Rosewater’s,” Julie Jacobson, editor of CE Pro stated recently.

However, it is now time that home technology professionals should start thinking about new ways of powering and wiring the home, because it’s looking more and more likely that the industry will see much more DC power-distribution options in the next five years.

CEDIA has also thrown its weight behind the notion, predicting that an increasing number of lighting control and fixtures will be IP-based and have the potential to run on low-voltage Power Over Ethernet (PoE).

Although strongly associated with the commercial sector, DC power and PoE lighting are sure to eventually migrate their way into the residential space in the new-builds of the future. With this in mind, residential technology professionals may be asking themselves: “if PoE lighting and DC power supplies are set to transform the home control sector, what are the implications for my job and the industry as a whole?”

DC Power

Custom electronics professionals will already be familiar with DC-powered systems for a variety of applications, after all, wireless access points, IP cameras and small A/V boxes (to name just a few) often get their power and data over Ethernet.

Then there are ‘hardwired’ or ‘panelised’ lighting-control systems, where we see low-voltage wiring powering keypads and sometimes thermostats and other connected devices. Manufacturers that make motorised window coverings typically offer centralised power distribution modules to fuel banks of DC motors.

In fact, the benefits of using DC power distribution are plentiful, as on top of eliminating bulky power supplies for individual products – as well as the energy leakage associated with these always-on adapters – they reduce shock hazards and electrical code restrictions, can easily be combined with data networks (meaning one set of cables provides both data and power) and can save money in terms of installation and operation.

Armed with these facts, is it so difficult to imagine a future scenario in which most or possibly all of a home’s electronics are DC-powered through a network of low-voltage cables that terminate at a single power source?

Think about it: that source could be the utility’s high-voltage power grid, or it could be a giant power supply (an energy storage hub) – fuelled with energy harvested from the sun, wind or other natural source.

Many of the pieces of a DC-powered ecosystem are already starting to fall into place (see the future tech trends article on batteries on page 23). “Over the next several years, the move towards LVDC (low-voltage/direct-current) will occur in baby steps, most likely starting with power hubs in individual rooms,” Julie asserts.

The products will plug into a standard AC electrical outlet and distribute DC power to the room’s electronics. Computers, for example, will plug right into the wall, straight into the low-voltage wire that powers a house, with no AC/DC adapters in the path. Installing a light fixture won’t require an electrician. Instead, low-voltage contractors will simply poke a hole in the ceiling and tap into the LV line. Hang on; won’t this cause friction between electricians and low-voltage installers for essential pre-wire work? CE Pro Europe will get to this later.

We are still a few decades away from replacing 120/240V AC altogether, but installers can however start looking towards the advantages that come with low-voltage lighting systems.

The first real triumph in whole-house DC power distribution will be when the bulk of household lighting can be converted, allowing individual fixtures to be both powered and controlled over low-voltage wiring.

 

PoE

Traditional lighting systems are hardwired and offer few control options (usually on and off and sometimes ‘dimming’). With PoE and LED lighting, however, space reconfiguration is suddenly made easy. After all, historically when businesses wish to reconfigure existing space, electricians are brought back to modify the lighting branch circuits and fixture position; a costly and time consuming process.

In contrast, PoE with LED lights enables users to safely and easily move lights, adjust colour temperature and automate failure detection – all while saving money and energy.

“PoE lighting systems are the reason I got into control,” says John Niebel, CEO, amBX. “About three years ago somebody said to me: ‘have you heard about this Cisco power over Ethernet lighting?’ I said: ‘no; what’s power over Ethernet lighting?’ He said: ‘Well now, you can put 60W down a Cat-5, Cat-5a, Cat-5e or a Cat-6a Ethernet cable’. I said: ‘crikey! That is going to change the world’.”

amBX is a company at the forefront of all things PoE, believing that a lighting revolution will take place over the next few years which will see smart and connected lighting becoming the preferred choice for lighting offices and public buildings.
What amBX offers is Smart Core software, which controls the lighting in single or multiple spaces based upon end-user desires and environmental factors such as levels of daylight, time of day, temperature and data received from other sensors or systems.

“All of a sudden you can envisage a ceiling where there’s nothing but Cat-5 and Cat-6 cables in there; virtually no mains infrastructure,” he enthuses. “Installation becomes unbelievably easy and the whole thing costs less. You’ve got power and data going down the same cable. It’s what we’ve been dreaming about in lighting controls forever; it’s game changing.”

“LED lighting is indeed transforming the commercial and residential markets,” agrees John Baekelmans, CTO, Internet of Everything Solutions Group at Cisco and the leader of the company’s recent Digital Ceiling initiative. “In a residential environment LED lights are typically powered through transformers which are connected to the high voltage power.”

Cisco is widely considered to be the biggest networking company in the world, so it makes sense that it has its own IoT division. The company predicts that the ‘internet of everything’ represents a £3.3 trillion opportunity for global public-sector organisations over the next decade.

“Connected lighting will make it easier to ‘connect’ control applications to your overall lighting infrastructure,” he continues. “The Digital Ceiling is thereby focused on making the interactions between the endpoints (the lights) and those (control) applications more open and standards based where today they rely still too much on non standard (proprietary) protocols.”

“For me, the benefits are ease of installation,” adds John N. “It seems to be somewhere between 15 and 40% savings in terms of installation. At the moment we are doing most of our costings using commercial grade switchers, which are very expensive. I think the PoE switches for lighting that will come from Cisco and others later this year will be considerable cheaper.”

It is predicted that an increasing number of lighting control and fixtures will be IP-based and have the potential to run on low-voltage PoE, but why is this?

“LEDs have become so efficient that they can now indeed be powered through the network via PoE,” answers John B. “The fact that that same network can not only carry your critical data and voice traffic but can also connect and power your lighting infrastructure makes your overall investment more efficient and decreases the overall support burden. Having the ability to also bring back sensor traffic over the same network connection (multiple sensors embedded in every luminaire, for presence, daylight harvesting, temperature, etc) is a huge plus and supports the growing trends around the IoT.”

PoE Meets Residential: Does It Have A Place?

“We see many lighting vendors grasping the value of PoE based luminaries together with the promise of the IoT to actually become a lot more open and interoperable,” says John B. “In the residential space we see similar desires to create new experiences but we don’t see that being done through PoE based lighting solutions. For now we see this only happening in commercial environments; not yet in the home markets as people typically don’t have PoE based network infrastructures at home.”

But they could in future.

“I think PoE has a place in the home,” John N considers. “I think for lighting it’s going to take quite a few years before it becomes commonplace. I think that there are many things that you can do with PoE in-house; we are already seeing CEDIA dealers that will be doing CCTV and security systems using PoE, but in terms of lighting I think it’s quite a few years before that becomes commonplace. Quite simply, that is because the initial push is going to be towards commercial light fittings and light fittings that are PoE powered for home use – it’s going to be a while before they are available. And of course light fittings for the home are usually not engineering solutions, it’s more of an aesthetics solution so I think it will be a while before we see PoE on an RJ45 socket on the ceiling.

“But you can look to the future – I’ve talked to colleagues in the industry and CEDIA guys about using lots of power sockets around the house in future; you’ll have PoE RJ45s and USBC sockets in the wall, but it’s a way off.

“The interesting thing with technology is that people often say that, we often overestimate what will happen in five years and underestimate what will happen in 10; so who knows?

“After all, it makes perfect sense that one day, an increasing number of lighting control and fixtures will be IP-based and have the potential to run on low-voltage PoE,” he furthers. “It only makes sense for new-builds though – it doesn’t make sense to rewire a house with PoE!”

What John N can see, is that PoE will transform the structure of automated systems because it will reduce the protocols, meaning that everything will be Ethernet.

“There are several things that are driving the commercial lighting industry in particular at the moment,” he advises. ‘There are three big factors, starting with the drive to LED: LEDs are now established as the light source of choice – a lot of the early problems of colour rendering and uniformity have gone away. The second thing – which also applies to residential – is the drive to control everything using IP. We are seeing this even more so through the IoT and that’s only going to increase over the next few years. The third thing in commercial lighting in particular, is what we call bio adaptable human-centred lighting, and it’s all to do with an understanding of what lights can do for the user.

“When you put all three together, you find that existing lighting control systems are not up to the task of dealing with the new things that are coming into people’s fields of perception.”

Where does this leave installers?

If more lighting controls are IP-based and run on PoE in future, this will impact how a home is wired with line- and low-voltage wiring, which is sure to further the tension between electricians and low- voltage installers for the necessary pre-wire work.

“I think that’s true; I think that’s highly likely,” says John N. “I suspect we will see the growth of a new class of tradesperson that is halfway between electrician and IT professional. Either the electricians will step up and increase their knowledge base and understanding of these things, or the IT guys will just take over.

“That’s something that’s definitely going to be an area where interesting things will happen over the next few years,” he considers.

“We think PoE is pretty compelling and that over the next few years it will become the norm in lighting commercial spaces. There will be retrofit versions and wireless versions using mains power as well doing the same thing.”

John N reiterates that he does see a place for PoE in the residential sector, even if that means looking 10 years or more into the future.

“I think it will happen; I think that the IEEE standards for DC buildings is being written now, so I think it makes perfect sense to do that in the future. What will make it happen is there will be PoE light fittings, PoE TVs, PoE HiFi systems and so on, and when these things are available, then it makes sense to have a PoE power structure.

“Until those products are available then it doesn’t’ really make sense, but you think about your house and how many low voltage plug in power supplies you have around the place; everything that has a low voltage power supply could be PoE powered. Even a 60W Cisco UPOE can power a pretty big display screen these days. It’s fascinating, I think this whole area is going to change so much over the next few years. I think the IoT is going to be huge and it’s going to drive lots of things. With regards to the whole connectivity stuff – some of it will be wireless and some of it will be PoE. At any one time 99% of the housing stock is existing; only 1% in the UK is probably new builds so it’s going to take a while for the PoE side to become reality.”

More information: amBX http://ambx.com, Cisco: http://ioeassessment.cisco.com

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