6 Insights California Businesses Need to Know About Occupancy Sensors

6 Insights California Businesses Need to Know About Occupancy Sensors

Many California businesses are planning and undertaking energy efficiency projects to reduce costs and provide operational benefits. These initiatives can vary greatly by business and facility type. However, one energy efficiency project that can provide significant dividends in every industry is the installation of occupancy sensors.

Occupancy sensors are the most common type of lighting control used in buildings. Installing these sensors allows businesses to significantly reduce lighting costs in indoor and outdoor areas that are not continuously occupied.

It's important to note that occupancy sensors also provide a number of other practical benefits. The following are Insights every California business should know when planning an energy efficiency project that involves lighting.

Insight #1: Occupancy sensors go beyond lighting
Occupancy sensors have been helping businesses create more efficient lighting practices for over 20 years. However, recent advancements in technologies have adapted sensors to perform a much greater role than merely turning lights on and off. Some are now equipped to detect the space temperature and provide feedback to the heating, ventilating and air conditioning (HVAC) system and/or Energy Management System. This means the HVAC system can adjust for occupancy to provide the right comfort level. More advanced lighting control systems can also be used so that business employees can see when a conference room is in use or vacant. Several California businesses are already using this information to help improve their scheduling of shared spaces.

Insight #2: Occupancy sensors offer different technologies
The two most prominent occupancy sensor technologies are infrared and ultrasonic. Dual-technology sensors that combine infrared and ultrasonic functions are also available. Here is a brief overview of these sensors:

Infrared sensors detect changes in a room within their line of sight. These sensors work well in open areas where the entire room is within the field of view.

Ultrasonic sensors use high-frequency sound to detect motion. With their advanced technology, they can even work around corners. These sensors are optimal for cubicles and restrooms.

Dual-technology sensors use both temperature and high-frequency sound to detect motion. This increases the accuracy and flexibility of these sensors, but also the price. These sensors are ideal for classrooms and conference rooms.

Insight #3: Occupancy sensors are essential for lighting control systems
Occupancy sensors allow comprehensive lighting control systems to show energy use in real time. They provide vital data to the system that is transmitted to a data dashboard. This data allows businesses to take a holistic approach to energy management that incorporates total building energy use. They can also use "behavioral" information to see how energy is actually used by the company and pinpoint areas where efficiency can be increased. For example, knowing which areas of the business are unoccupied during certain business hours will allow greater control of the energy that is used in those areas.

Insight #4: Occupancy sensors can help create safer working conditions
To illustrate this insight, here's a practical example of how lighting controls can lead to a safer workplace. Warehouses present higher risk working environments. Heavy loads are constantly being moved in or out and large industrial vehicles come and go on a regular basis. In this hectic environment, employee safety is always of paramount concern. Occupancy sensors that turn lights on and off can serve to indicate whether there are people present in the work area. This is critical for workers driving a forklift or other heavy-use vehicles. When they enter an area where lights are on, they know immediately to be more aware of other workers and potential hazards.

Insight #5: Occupancy sensors can lead to fewer lamp replacements
Using occupancy sensors increases the on and off switching of lights, which may shorten lamp life. However, this consequence can be negated by more efficient lamp usage due to the sensors. By installing occupancy sensors, the overall time between lamp replacements can be increased because the lights will be in use less frequently.

Insight #6: Occupancy sensors are just one type of lighting control
In addition to occupancy sensors, there are numerous other lighting control options available to California businesses today. For example, bi-level switching provides simple manual control of the number of lamps used and lighting levels achieved. Another option is task tuning, which sets lighting levels to meet the needs of particular tasks. For areas with abundant natural light, automatic daylight dimming is a wise choice because it controls a room's lighting level based on the amount of daylight in the space. These are only a few of the types of lighting controls that a business can implement. In order to determine the best options for work-area demands and energy efficiency goals, businesses should work with a contractor.

To learn more about lighting controls for commercial energy efficiency projects, download "PG&E's Guide to Lighting Controls and Occupancy Sensors." This guide was developed by Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) to help California businesses capitalize on the many benefits of lighting controls and find the resources to implement them correctly.