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BC Hydro supports bringing advanced lighting control training program to Canada

Image of instructor with electrical board
Some advanced lighting systems are so complex that a California-based training course on installation has a 25% failure rate.

Complex systems require in-depth training to ensure proper installation

This fall, a new training program will help B.C. electricians become among the best in the world at installing advanced lighting control systems.

The curriculum comes from California, which is, according to BC Hydro's Jorge Marques, "a few years ahead of us in pushing the boundaries with energy efficiency."

The Advanced Lighting Control Training Program was designed to address the fact that many lighting control systems are installed incorrectly. These systems may not be in use at all because users, frustrated the systems aren't working as expected, turn them off.

According to Marques, customers who want to invest in technology to save energy are often frustrated with lighting systems because they are often too expensive, because they are not properly estimated, or because they're poorly installed and don't work.

Phil Davis is the operations manager at the Electrical Joint Training Committee's industry training subsidiary, E2inc, which will be administering the training program in Canada. "This is all about increasing the efficiency of lighting installation through controls," he said.

Realizing the benefit of lighting technology

Marques said that with LED becoming a popular efficiency measure, there's an opportunity for lighting installers.

"If you do a one-to-one replacement, but you don't redesign the lighting systems, that's a missed opportunity," he said. Control systems enable additional efficiency. By changing the light technology and the controls at the same time, said Marques, you get the extra benefit of the control technology.

BC Hydro engineer Cristian Suvagau explained that lighting system features, such as occupancy sensors, timers, and daylight sensors, will not operate correctly if the controls aren't installed according to specifications and design. "The system may not process the information, and sensors may not communicate properly if they aren't placed or calibrated the right way," he said.

Lighting control systems are complex

The simple fact is that advanced lighting controls are complicated. "These are not out-of-the-box systems," said Doug Avery in a phone interview from his office in California. He helped establish the Advanced Lighting Controls Training Program in California.

In 2007, Avery had three different manufacturers arrange to install their systems in a Southern California Edison office. "We were still testing the controls to see how they worked," said Avery.

He wanted the systems to be able to dim and be controlled manually, and to be able to respond to daylight sensing, demand response, and programmed scheduling.

"None of the contractors that had been hired by the manufacturers installed them correctly," Avery said, suggested that's why lighting controls have a bad reputation.

"If you have to do a Dilbert to get an occupancy sensor to work," he said, "it's no wonder these things get turned off."

Avery added that when control systems are installed correctly, and when they are working as they should, "Nobody even notices them."

Training program is comprehensive, rigorous

"This is not a trivial course," said Avery, noting that in California, the first-time failure rate is 25%. "Often that's because people feel like they know what they are doing. When they come back, most pass the second time."

The 50-hour program includes theoretical work and practical training on what are called "lab boards," which include various lighting system components. The curriculum being delivered in B.C. is the same as what is offered in California, but adapted for the Canadian Electrical Code.

Program offered through B.C. colleges

The EJTC has licensed the training program for Canada through E2 Inc. The EJTC is a longstanding training partnership between the Electrical Contractors Association of BC and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers.

Certified electricians who have their Red Seal certificate will be able to sign up for the course through the continuing education departments at participating B.C. post-secondary schools.

Davis said that when the program is up and running, between 300 and 400 installers could be accredited annually.

Those who complete the program, said Davis, will receive an installer's certificate.

Advanced lighting control training for others is coming

Other certifications are possible. Davis hopes that there will soon be advanced lighting control training programs for estimators, so they can do a better job of understanding what customers need, and what systems can serve them best.

Avery wants to see training for building operators, so they know how to set up lighting controls, and how to use them properly.

As more lighting control systems work the way they are supposed to, Avery reasoned, negative perceptions of the systems will improve. That will lead to prices dropping as more of them are sold.

"We need to get over the hump of, 'These don't work, they are too expensive, we're not saving any money,'" he said.

Avery said that "BC Hydro has taken an incredible step in becoming the lead utility in addressing the need for training in advanced lighting control systems. I can't tell you how big a deal this is," he said. "I would urge utilities to make this certification a requirement for contractors and electricians in order to qualify for advanced lighting systems incentives. This would make a huge difference."

For more information on the certification program, please contact the Program Head, Phil Davis.