DOE Lowers the Lights with Wireless Mesh

By Susan Kuchinskas

February 03, 2005

The Department of Energy pilots a plan to retrofit corporate lighting systems with automatic sensors.

Keeping the lights on in homes and businesses accounts for around 30 percent of their total electrical use. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) has a plan to dim the lights using wireless mesh networks.

On Thursday, Dust Networks said it had been tapped to work with the DOE in an initiative aimed at making America's commercial and residential buildings more energy efficient. Berkeley, Calif.-based Dust will partner with SVA Lighting and the DOE's Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory to create a system that can automatically dim or turn out fluorescent lights when plenty of daylight or an absence of humans makes them unnecessary.

For example, occupancy sensors can automatically turn lights on when someone enters a room, then dim them or shut them off when the last person leaves.

Dust Networks said its OEMs low-power wireless mesh networking systems will be used for monitoring and control.

According to DOE studies, energy-saving strategies like this have the potential to save more than $8 billion a year in the United States alone.

"Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory looked at different control systems for dimmable lighting ballasts," said Rob Conant, Dust co-founder and vice president of business development. "They found that by wiring a building's fluorescent lighting ballasts all together and using things like light level and occupancy sensors, along with allowing people to adjust the levels in their own workspaces, they can reduce energy consumption by about 40 percent."

According to Conant, applying a self-configuring wirelessly network to a building's lighting system removes the biggest barrier to installing dimmable systems: the wiring costs. Conant said one occupancy sensor can cost as much as $400 to install.

He said that untrained technicians could retrofit an existing fluorescent fixture with the inch-square Dust Mote temperature sensor, costing $2 or $3, in just a few minutes.

Arcadia, Calif.-based SVA light makes dimmable fluorescent ballasts, but only 1 or 2 percent of U.S. buildings now uses them. Eventually, SVA plans to integrate Dust's wireless sensor network technology with a ballast product for the U.S. market. The 18-month DOE project, Conant said, will get the companies closer to that goal.



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