an enlighting solution

By Scott Jordan, Contributing Editor

Lighting control is a must for convenience store owners and managers, but it can also be a source of frustration due to required maintenance of mechanical and electronic time clocks that have been used for decades to automatically turn lights on and off as necessary.

But storeowners and managers are facing a new challenge this spring—a change in the starting and ending dates of daylight savings time, which could render those clocks obsolete and require installation of new equipment. Since 1986, daylight-saving time started the first week of April, but due to an Energy Policy Act of 2005 (EPAct 2005) mandate, it began March 11 this year. As you read this, some storeowners may be in the throes of contacting their local electrical contractor or the manufacturer of the time clocks to get them, and their lights, back on schedule.

A storeowner that proactively planned ahead for the change in daylight time most likely minimized both cost and disruptions postMarch 11. Not one of those storeowners? A Web-enabled lighting control system could be the next best thing, because it will make any possible future changes to daylight savings a moot point.

Daylight-saving time started during World War I, when Germany and Austria moved its clocks one hour ahead to save fuel for the war effort by capitalizing on the natural light. The U.S. Congress formally adopted daylight time before the end of the Great War, but public complaints forced its repeal shortly afterward.

During World War II, daylight time was a state and local decision, but that caused confusion, which was remedied by theUniform Time Act of 1966 passed by Congress. Subsequent alterations were made in the 1970s and 1986.

Mechanical lighting control time clocks made their appearancein the late 1970s, and while revolutionary, the clocks tended to drift,which required constant adjustments along with manual changestwice per year due to daylight time changes. Then came electronictime clocks, with a microprocessor that automatically compensatedfor daylight time. However, they hadclock-drift issues as well, frustratingstore managers when lights wouldeither automatically switch off beforea store closed or fail to switch onwhen it opened.

Despite drawbacks, those twotechnologies were workable solutions, but that changed at 2 a.m.March 11, when clocks moved forward one hour due to the change indaylight savings time. It created problems for unprepared storeowners and chains—critical lights like signage and parking lotlighting turned on an hour later because the microprocessors inelectronic time clocks were configured for the April 1 change, thesame as it had been since 1986. At presstime, many storeownersand managers were struggling to resolve the issue.

It's not an ideal situation for many reasons. Passers-by during that one-hour period may think a store is closed, which is lost potential business. Also compelling is the safety of customers who trek across a dark parking lot, creating potential for crime and safety issues. Certainly the lighting schedule within an electronic time clock can be changed, but will have to be changed back April 1 for the new start of daylight time, creating more hassle.

But that's only half of the problem.Unprepared storeowners and managerswill also face issues in the week following Oct. 28, when the microprocessorswithin electronic time clocks will continue to operate as if daylight savingstime has ended; energy costs will increasebecause lights are turning on unnecessarily. Again, lighting schedules couldbe changed, but they would have to bechanged back a week later, when daylightsavings officially ends, per EPAct 2005.All told, this four-time adjustment wouldneed to be conducted annually, assumingthe new daylight savings time format ismaintained.

An obvious, long-term fix may not be possible with the electronic time clock technology many convenience stores are using. Because daylight savings times are typically hard-coded into the microprocessor of those clocks, the microprocessor itself might have to replaced, along with possibly the entire unit. That creates extra cost, which could double later if Congress decides to revert back to the 1986 format, which it reserves the right to do if energy savings aren't as dramatic or there is a major public outcry.

The best long-term fix for the daylight savings time issue could be Web-enabled lighting control. Web-enabled control affords corporate headquarters the ability to monitor and control, via a common Web browser, lighting and other electrical loads at all stores that have a Web-enabled controller in its standard lighting panelboard.

Corporate headquarters can easily monitor any store and change lighting schedules as necessary. This keeps store managers selling, while a centralized person performs the maintenance without having to travel to each location. Subsequent daylight time changes, or any other changes (e.g., new store hours) are seamless to the store manager.

Web-enabled control systems eliminate the nuisance of clock drift common in mechanical and electronic time clocks by automatically synchronizing the clock with a Web-based time server.

If Congress changes daylight savings dates again, the control algorithms in the controller can be easily updated remotely without the expense of having to replace hardware. In fact, some Web-enabled systems will soon be able to receive these updates automatically, meaning a person won't have to locate and upload a software upgrade.

But that's just the beginning. Webenabled lighting control also allows corporate headquarters to control and monitor fans and heaters, and monitor status of critical loads such as Transient Voltage Surge Suppression equipment (TVSS). If a convenience store's TVSS unit fails, the store manager won't realize it until a storm brings down the point-ofsale equipment, for example. But with a Web-enabled system, a TVSS unit can provide an alarm contact connected to the Web-enabled controller. If there is a contact closure, the controller will recognize that and initiate an e-mail alarm to corporate headquarters.

Installation time and local area network (LAN) connectivity are the two key concerns when it comes to a Webenabled lighting control system, but they can be alleviated. For example, some systems are available in configurations that mount inside a standard lighting panelboard, which offers significant savings. In existing stores, the old panel interior can quickly be exchanged for a Web-enabled panel interior. Since the retrofit is so quick, there is minimal disruption to store operations, which is always a good thing for store managers. In a new construction, the installation cost is basically the same as installing a standard panelboard.

There also might be reluctance to usethe corporate LAN for lighting controlpurposes. Those concerns can be easedthrough an understanding of where andhow a Web-enabled lighting control system will reside on the LAN and what thebandwidth exposure will be. Most often,that impact will be negligible.

Cost is another concern. Web-enabledlighting control systems provide featuresthat historically have been the domainof expensive building automation systems. But because of the ever-increasinguse of the Internet, today's technologiescan be afforded in systems that are competitive with the obsolete counterpartsbeing replaced. When the benefits of aWeb-enabled lighting control system aretaken into account, the cost of ownershipbecomes apparent.

Consider the value of retailers' time. If they didn't have to worry about manually changing a time clock's parameters four times per year or replacing an obsolete technology, to
what more productive projects could they devote their time?

Though designed to save both electricity and up to 300,000 barrels of oil annually, the daylight-saving time change is having a profound effect on convenience store operators and managers. While it's true some have been caught flat-footed by the daylight-saving time change, that doesn't mean they can't rebound with a solution that is an upgrade over the mechanical and electronic time clocks they have been using. Web-enabled lighting control offers convenient schedule changing through a familiar interface, such as a Web browser, and will make the resultant changes seamless to store managers whenever daylight-savings time occurs. In turn, they will be able concentrate on their core competency, which is serving customers.

Scott Jordan, consultant and product marketing manager for Square D/Schneider Electric inPalatine, Ill., can be reached at (847) 397-2600.