Lighting Control Panels: A Short Overview of Centralizes and Distributed Control

Lighting control panels are basically wall mounted devices that control numerous different aspects of a facilities’ lighting system. These devices are generally located in large industrial or commercial buildings and carry out the basic functions of: turning the lights on or off via a switch or automatic preset; and adjusting the output of the lighting system by means of a ‘dimmer’.

There are however, much more advanced functions that can be carried out by these devices such as: the prescheduled automatic shutoff off lighting; the utilization of occupancy or photo sensing devices in order to make intelligent decisions regarding an areas light requirements; and the monitoring and control of safety hazards such as short circuits and overloads.

In order for a control panel to properly carry out these higher order functions however, a system must be properly arranged. In commercial settings setups are generally either ‘central control’ or ‘distributed control’ systems.

Lighting Control Panels Placement in Central and Distributed Control Lighting Systems

The traditional lighting control setup in commercial buildings is a ‘central control’ system, which generally involves a centralized lighting control panel for switching a considerable number of loads. This type of setup allows branch circuits (direct wire connections distributing power to individual light sources) to be controlled singularly or grouped to control larger areas. This consequently allows for processes such as the scheduled shutoff of lights at a predefined time, with manual overrides for personnel who need to utilize the facility after this time.

‘Distributed control’ systems in comparison to ‘central control’ are a decentralized design in that no real central lighting control board exists within the facility. Instead smaller lighting control panels are located on each floor, or when taken even further, smaller panels are placed directly in the local area of the loads that they control. A benefit of this setup is the fact that the installation costs of these systems are much lower than that of the traditional centralized systems. This is mainly owing to the fact that far less wiring is needed due to the panels being directly in the locality of the equipment that they are servicing.

Another advantage of distributed systems is the fact that numerous, distributed lighting control panels allow for more flexible control of the lighting system than is available via the use of one main control panel. This is due to the fact that the smaller control panels utilized are usually networked to each, which means that larger grouped functions such as scheduled shutoffs are not a problem. One disadvantage of this however, is the fact that maintaining such a widely dispersed system can make lighting control panel maintenance an extremely tedious and difficult task.

In general it can be noted that there are numerous different ways in which lighting systems and lighting control panels can be planned, and placed within a commercial building. The system that is chosen therefore generally rests with the requirements and regulations of the buildings. It can be expected that as electrical regulations become increadingly strict, commercial facilities will need to continue refining their lighting setups.