In our previous blog post on our building headquarters retrofits, Sean mentioned that our new Oakland office space has a Daintree lighting control system which “gives the occupants greater control over their work spaces.” Sean really meant to say that it gives me greater control over everyone’s work spaces. Everyone else in the office uses dimmer switches to control the lights, but I get to see our control center:
It used to be very difficult to dim lights properly in our workspaces. Fluorescent lights, in particular, are mostly on/off systems – if you run them at half power you get a spooky haunted-house effect. However, with the advent of LED lighting in the last five years or so, it is now possible to dim lights to as low as 1% of their maximum light output. LEDs were more efficient than fluorescent lights to begin with, so running them at 1% output drops their energy usage to almost zero!
Daintree is one of the larger companies in the emerging “advanced lighting controls” industry. Daintree attaches a chip to each light fixture in our Oakland, CA office, and those chips communicate wirelessly with a central server, as well as occupancy sensors in their spaces. The server gives each light “instructions” that can be customized for different times of the day. For example, I set the lights to be on during the day to not interrupt my colleagues’ work enivornment, but then automatically drop the time-delay on the occupancy sensor to 15 seconds at night, so that as my colleagues walk around the office, it leaves a brief glowing trail of lights behind them.
Also, Daintree systems come with another kind of sensor – a daylight sensor. This is supposed to let the system compensate for natural light, and automatically dim the ceiling light when there is sunlight shining on your desk. So you get a constant level of illumination throughout the day while saving even more energy. This is a fantastic capability of the system.
The thing is, the people who work at a company whose entire mission is to save energy tend to personally have energy-efficient habits. When we were calibrating the system, we realized that our employees wanted too little light to use the daylighting feature. Even if there was sunlight shining on their desks, we could not make it any dimmer than it already was.
The same thing happened with some of the occupancy sensors – we realized the occupancy sensor in one of our printer rooms actually did nothing. If we told the system to shut off after, say, 5 seconds of not sensing movement, it would keep shutting off while employees were waiting for their documents to print. However, if we told the system to take any more than 5 seconds, our energy-efficient-minded employees would be so bothered by leaving the light on as they left the room that they would go back and manually switch it off. (They would then proceed to tell me that the printer room off-delay was too long!)
All that said, we still managed to save energy by installing the Daintree lighting system. In September 2014, we completed our move to our new downtown Oakland headquarters, also known as the Atrium Building, and added roughly 50% more employees to the space. At the same time, we started using the Daintree system and our energy usage went up by 20% instead of 50%. Everyone that works at our headquarters is very happy with the new lighting system, and the building feels responsive, as though it is participating in our energy-saving mission while providing us the kind of environment we need to carry it out.