Control More Than Your Light Levels

Posted: May 08, 2018
Tagged As: Electricity, Energy, Energy Bills, Energy Conservation and Demand Management Plans, Energy Planning, LED, Municipal Infrastructure, Streetlights

Outdoor area lighting is a major contributor to energy use and offers both utilities and municipalities a major opportunity to reduce their energy consumption and operating costs in a very publicly visible manner.  While some owners have installed adaptive controls on High-Pressure Sodium (HPS) streetlights, the majority have taken the opportunity to simultaneously upgrade to LED lighting. LEDs are especially well suited to controls because they are dimmable, rapidly turn on to full illumination, and do not decrease in service life from frequent ON and OFF operations.

What are Adaptive Controls & What are the Most Common Features?

Before getting into the functionality of a typical system, it’s helpful to first define what is meant by the term “adaptive controls.” The Department of Energy (DOE) refers to an adaptive lighting system as one that “automatically adjusts the light output based on sensor input from the space they serve to optimize performance” (Adaptive Street Lighting Controls webinar, 2013).

A typical system is composed of the following four distinct elements:
  • Central Management System (CMS): the computer core platform that provides all shared system services to include consolidation and storage of all system data. The CMS includes the user interface that allows you to view data, set schedules, run reports, etc.
  • Field Devices:  the networked components (hardware and embedded software) installed in the   field that function together to adaptively control and remotely monitor luminaires. Controllers execute lighting changes at the luminaire while gateways connect two communication networks that use different protocols, translating from a wireless field device protocol to a standardized wide area network (WAN) protocol, which is typically either Wi-Fi, Ethernet or cellular.
  • Field Device Network:  normally a local network that connects and allows communication between field devices. There is a wide range of communication options with many different protocol options.
  • Backhaul Network:  in most cases, a wired or wireless wide area network (WAN) that connects           and enables communication between one or more field device networks to the CMS, typically through a gateway that acts as the aggregation point for numerous field devices.
Image of a Common Adaptive Controls Network

Ideally, these components are all interchangeable, interoperable, and scalable to ensure maximum functionality and fewer problems. This combination of components allows users to manage, monitor and measure their lighting system. 

Adaptive controls allow for dimming over the full range supported by the driver. Scheduling can be time-based (dimming during low traffic hours) or event-based, depending on whether users would like a set schedule or more responsive management, which can take into account varying ambient light levels, weather patterns, traffic patterns or other quantifiable measures.

Some users also apply a long-term management strategy whereby adaptive controls reduce the power supplied at the beginning of the luminaire life and increase it over time to counteract lumen and/or dirt depreciation. On the other end of the spectrum, some systems provide integrated sensors that respond to usage variation through active monitoring or scheduled usage patterns based on predictive algorithms.  Adaptive controls can also monitor a variety of power and luminaire parameters, including current, voltage, power factor, lamp burn hours, network communication failures, as well as other potential failure events.

Value Proposition

Adaptive controls provide value for systems owners via reductions in energy consumption and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, reduced maintenance costs, improved asset management, improved public safety, plus numerous emerging opportunities.
  • Reduced Energy Consumption:  20-40% savings in energy consumption
  • Reduced Maintenance Costs: Faster repairs and efficiently scheduled maintenance
  • Improved Asset Management:  Better tracking of field assets
  • Improved Public Safety: Adapting light levels for certain events and area
  • Emerging Opportunities:  Smart City services such as citizen engagement, environmental data, weather data, seismic activity, audio and video monitoring, parking availability, interactive billboards, traffic management, and more.


Like any evolving technology that serves to connect and operate other existing technologies, adaptive controls are not without their challenges. The primary challenges can be grouped categorically as compatibility (interoperability and interchangeability), security and regulatory issues.  To learn more about these challenges and a more comprehensive explanation of the above, you can view the full RealTerm Energy White Paper on the benefits of adaptive controls.

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