June. 2023

DC Lighting and Building Microgrid Adoption: Breaking Barriers, Delivering Success

One of the most renowned and go-to sources is the report “DC Lighting and Building Microgrids: Opportunities and Recommendations,” published in September 2020 by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) with support from the DOE. The report was based on research conducted by PNNL to characterize the current state of DC lighting and building microgrid markets and technologies, including extensive literature reviews, interviews with subject matter experts, and a formal request for information (RFI) to DC lighting and microgrid controller manufacturers that garnered 46 responses. Much of the report focused on DC lighting since lighting is one of the largest sources of total energy consumption, accounting for about 17% of all energy consumed.

A key part of the PNNL’s research included identifying the barriers facing the adoption of DC lighting and DC microgrids. The report stated “a lack of available equipment that accepts DC input” as one of the most common barriers. It went on to recommend that lighting manufacturers offer options for DC input to fixtures and drivers and that PoE system manufacturers offer PoE switches with a DC input to connect directly to DC building microgrids.

The good news is that our efforts have paid off!

A bit of history

LED lighting became more widely available in the early 2000s. By 2008, LED lighting had gained significant ground in commercial enterprises, especially schools and hospitals. It is now the primary lighting source, with halogen and fluorescent lighting on their way out. Powering LED lights over the network with PoE became a reality in 2018 with the ratification of the IEEE 802.3bt PoE standard that enabled network cabling to carry 60 Watts of power per port. Unfortunately, adoption has been spotty, and traditional line voltage AC systems have remained the primary power source for LED lighting.

With emerging IoT technology and smart building initiatives, PoE lighting has recently gained more attention as a means to bring intelligence to buildings. Via a network connection, PoE lighting systems can be more efficiently controlled and monitored from anywhere. Fixtures can integrate various connected sensors, such as occupancy, daylighting, air quality, temperature, humidity, proximity, infrared, and even gunshot detection.

Think about the number of lighting fixtures in a commercial building, and it’s easy to see how a PoE lighting system creates a ubiquitous, connected platform for collecting and sharing data with other connected building systems. While these benefits help drive PoE lighting adoption, the lack of DC-powered network switches referred to in the PNNL report has restricted the ability to deploy a complete DC power infrastructure. Even buildings at the forefront of deploying emerging DC infrastructure with fault-managed power (FMP) technologies, such as VoltServer’s Digital Electricity (DE), have often had to convert DC power back to AC for powering PoE switches.

There’s No Stopping Us Now!

Through grass root efforts and strategic partnerships, Sinclair Digital has worked to influence the technology roadmaps of switch manufacturers. We have been diligent in our efforts to provide education on DC power and the benefits of implementing DC inputs for switches to connect directly to DC building microgrids. Those efforts, combined with increasing ESG initiatives and FMP now adopted as Class 4 by the 2023 National Electric Code® (NEC), have officially eliminated the barrier highlighted in the PNNL report.

Multiple 60 and 90 Watt PoE switches are now available that can be powered directly via DC power, including FMP like VoltServer’s DE. These switches can power virtually everything in a building – from lighting, security, and HVAC equipment to shades, computers, electronics, digital displays, electric vehicle (EV) chargers, and more.

With the introduction of DC-powered PoE switches, there is now no stopping the adoption of DC lighting and building microgrids. It’s no wonder that the global PoE lighting market is expected to reach more than $43 billion by 2030, at a compound annual growth rate of nearly 30%1, and the global microgrid market is expected to grow at a rate of more than 18% during the same period2.

Sinclair Digital can also now easily offer a complete turnkey DC infrastructure solution for distributing DC power throughout the entire building, including configured as a DC microgrid with on-site solar photovoltaics (PV) and storage battery systems.

If you’re considering PoE lighting and a DC microgrid for your next building project, or you want to learn more about DC power infrastructure that will help decarbonize the built environment, get in touch with us today at info@sinclair-digital.com.