A new take on DALI: why the market needs a full spectrum approach...

Author : Jon Theis | Director | TheisCraft Lighting Controls

01 May 2022

ThisCraft Lighting Controls
ThisCraft Lighting Controls

LED technology has transformed the lighting industry, enabling users to maximise efficiency, reduce wasted energy & save money. But the advent of LED technology also means more attention must be paid to the way light fittings are controlled. And although switching LEDs is straightforward, dimming is more complicated. Here, Jon Theis, Director at smart lighting specialist, TheisCraft Lighting Controls outlines the solutions...

This article was originally featured in the May 2022 issue of EPDT magazine [read the digital issue]. And sign up to receive your own copy each month.

There are three control protocols available for dimming lighting: phase dimming (decrease in power), 0-10V/1-10V (analogue) or DALI (digital). However, DALI (Digital Addressable Lighting Interface) is now widely recognised as the global standard for lighting control. This two-way communications protocol guarantees interoperability of dimmable light sources from different lighting manufacturers, giving users complete control over and communication between all lighting system components. Yet, despite its many advantages, there are some limitations to DALI — especially when it comes to commissioning costs. But with the right solution, there doesn’t need to be a trade-off between benefits and costs…

What makes DALI different?

There’s no denying that DALI is far superior to other lighting control standards — offering simplified two-way communication for modern lighting technology. Unlike traditional analogue dimming systems, which use a DC voltage signal, DALI uses a digital signal for more precise and flexible control — enabling a versatile solution. This digital signal allows data to be collated via system software to analyse consumption and identify faults with connected DALI devices.

Installing a DALI system is also much more straightforward than other systems, as lighting can be reconfigured entirely through software, without rewiring. Yet, DALI still offers a high level of customisation, despite its inherent simplicity.

Each DALI device is individually addressed, allowing zoning (groups) to be implemented using software independent of circuits. As a result, lights can easily be programmed to suit the needs of the space, and a range of different settings are possible within one system — providing the flexibility to offer simple standalone room options or networked solutions.

The scalable system also allows work to be carried out in phases. And because you can use dimmable light sources from different lighting manufacturers, DALI gives planners, specifiers and luminaire manufacturers security of supply from many sources.

As a result, DALI is widely used in professionally designed lighting control systems within commercial settings, such as hotels and office buildings — where anything from single-room standalone solutions to a system with multiple floors can be networked together. But now, we are also starting to see DALI used in residential lighting projects, thanks to its simplified wiring structure, superior dimming performance and enhanced flexibility.

So, what are the limitations of DALI?

For one, not all loads or light fittings will be DALI compatible — meaning you cannot control non-dimmable devices, such as water valves, bathroom extractor fans, window blinds or variable air volume units through DALI.

DALI is also typically more expensive initially, due to commissioning costs, which can account for perhaps a quarter of an initial project price using a standard commissionable DALI solution. Projects also need to be fully installed before the site can be commissioned, and any changes once the fully addressable DALI system is installed involve additional site visits and commissioning costs.

As such, the DALI market is missing a simple, non-commissionable option for projects with standalone areas that need lighting control, such as in the residential sector. So what’s the alternative solution?

The lighting control industry needs a new take on DALI: one that offers all the benefits of DALI control — yet little to no commissioning. Imagine a full spectrum of flexible DALI products — power supply units, rotary DALI dimmers, relay units, switch interface modules, phase dimmers and PIRs (passive infrared sensors for motion detection) — that go far beyond lighting.

A single channel relay unit would allow complete control of non-DALI and non-dimmable devices, and all these products could work cohesively together, using the unique DALI group selection switch to negate the need for specialist commissioning software and tools.

The result? A DALI solution that offers a degree of flexibility and simplicity unlike anything else seen in the market. Not only would setup and electrical contract configuration be easier, but it would also require zero maintenance. Any future additional equipment could be added without the need for trained specialists, and any failures could be replaced like-for-like with no commissioning.

This solution would be ideal for any commercial applications where complex levels of control are not required, offering an uncomplicated lighting control solution to the residential market — without the need for expensive technical support.

The lighting industry is moving on thanks to the advent of technology like LEDs, so is it not time that lighting control systems advanced alongside to put control back in the hands of the user?

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