Industry Leader Interview

Pete Horton heads the AIC Wireless controls business unit ( at WattStopper, part of Legrand Group, in which he successfully led the acquisition in 2013. AIC Wireless provides performance based solutions through ESCO's, VARS (Value Added Resellers), and System Integrators in commercial, government and industrial applications. 

Could you please provide a brief history and overview of WattStopper?

WattStopper is a 30 year old company specializing in energy saving controls for the electrical industry. WattStopper is part of the Legrand Building Controls system division and is most recognized as the leader in occupancy sensing technologies. Over the past 10 years the brand has grown into a systems capable company and leads the connectivity of open lighting control systems in the intelligent building.

Could you please tell us what some of the strengths of WattStopper are?

The strength of the business is the applications, market and technology knowledge that is contained within the people of the organization and the service organization that supports our products. Our controls are also independent of the lighting fixture which allows the designer to choose the lighting that best suites the application and then use a controls manufacturer that delivers the best value for the facility.

What is the value proposition of the organization?

I would say there are two primary value propositions for the company. The first is that we make it easy to buy and apply code compliance solutions for major renovations and new construction projects. The second is that we deliver performance based control solutions that meet owners’ requirements. These performance solutions tend to be discretionary business leveraged by rebates, energy saving, or improved building performance.

How do the products of WattStopper differ from the competition?

WattStopper is a trusted brand known for innovation, support, value and reliability. Contractors and facility managers trust that WattStopper products will perform for them. We do not rush new technologies into the market, we launch new technologies when they are ready.

We are also committed to open standards with our control systems, leading the transformation from proprietary solutions to BACnet and IP platforms.

What are some of the key expansion plans for WattStopper?

We will continue to invest in products that simplify compliance with evolving energy codes and solutions that reduce complexity in discretionary renovations. Examples of these products include new renovation focused wall occupancy sensor line that does not require a neutral wire, our wireless occupancy sensors, and our wireless outdoor lighting control products.

We will continue our services expansion, adding to our Customer Care, Technical Support and field operations.  

In addition, we’ll continue our expansion with ESCO’s, VAR’s and Automation contractors that are already familiar with our open protocols.

What are some of the current trends in the lighting control industry?

Leaving out the obvious transition to LED sources… In the consumer space, the shift to LED creates opportunities for integrating wireless communications and controls into the light sources (lamp) with Smart Phone apps changing the requirements of wall switches and dimmers.

In commercial spaces we see the transformation of analog and electrical controls to digital and data-driven controls. Digital controls are moving towards an IP platform for both wired and wireless solutions. This digital evolution is bringing in new competitors and accelerating the pace of innovation while bringing in new challenges with cloud computing, smart phone integration, network security and data analytics.

We have seen a lot of changes in the lighting industry with a movement away from standalone control to integrated distributed systems. How has this impacted the market? Specification? Features & Functionality (codes)?

There are a few things occurring with the new energy codes requirements:

  • Centralized control systems require too much field wiring to meet the new code requirements, so there is a movement to distributed control for these applications.
  • Stand alone components such as analog ceiling sensors are challenged with the new sequences of operation (multi-level and manual ON), and there is a shift to digital capabilities.
  • There is debate between “Room Control” solutions and “Individual Fixture” solutions for the best fit for applications.
  • Control networks are growing with Demand Response requirements in California and rebates in the North East for networked systems.  
  • Daylighting systems are becoming more sophisticated and are migrating to remote commissioning.  These changes impact the design, specification and sales process while requiring higher skill levels of the technical support teams.

How has wireless impacted the market? Where is it going?

The largest impact has been in reduced labor costs for installing sensors and switches in new and existing indoor spaces. Even with more expensive RF components, the labor savings can reduce the Capital Expense of the installation. Most of these applications are single switch / dimmer to a Passive infra-red “stick on” sensor. These solutions have been popular because the retrofit of an existing switch without a neutral wire prohibited the use of dual technology wall switch replacements. New developments in wall motion sensors have eliminated this limitation.

Scalable wireless solutions are moving towards unconditioned spaces such as parking lot, parking decks, and street lighting where connectivity and dimming are desired. IP based products and suppliers are growing quickly to meet this demand.

Future products may see inexpensive switches and dimmers that connect to the enterprise control networks for remote configuration, constant commissioning, and analytics in these low cost devices.

With so much functionality in electrical control systems; how can security integrity be maintained?

Control systems are moving from electrical systems to data communication systems. We will see that Internet Protocols will become the standard for end devices in a similar fashion that we see IP connectivity to our computer systems. If we follow that logical build up for controls than our security requirements are going to be very similar to our wireless PC network control systems

How do you envision the Smart City from a controls perspective?

Smart cities will require partnerships across many boundaries to be successful. This includes new partners in our ecosystem including companies such as IBM, Cisco and Intel supporting the data communications infrastructure required for control and monitoring systems.

We expect wired and wireless networks as the backbone of the systems and web services to be a key element of delivering a smarter City. HVAC, electrical, security, video, traffic monitoring and emergency management systems will be components on a smarter city network infrastructure.

Funding for these projects will come from a variety of savings and cost avoidance from maintenance, energy, asset management and risk avoidance.

Often lighting control systems are looked at as a major capital expense. How can customers more effectively realize operational savings?

Some form of lighting control has always been provided in commercial spaces. In the past it may have just been a wall switch, timer, or photocell to provide the sequence of operation that an owner required. Automatic lighting control systems have moved from a discretionary expense to a requirement of the energy code for most commercial facilities.

When costs are evaluated, the entire expense may be seen as a major capital expense, but the reality is that the incremental costs of moving from manual controls to automatic controls is lower than what it first appears. National energy codes such as the IECC and ASHRAE 90.1 provide the minimum requirements for a reasonable payback for most commercial facilities. Going beyond these minimum requirements can reduce expenses in other areas including maintenance and liability.

What is the company doing to address the evolving marketplace and increasing competition?

WattStopper is focused on delivering products, services and software that simplify energy code required lighting and plug load controls, and leading the marketplace in performance based electrical control solutions. We have a product roadmap and technology road map where we are committed to delivering wired and wireless control systems for new and renovation projects. We will continue to develop programs for stock and flow business, while leading in open systems with industry partners that bring value to our customers through our pre-bid and post bid services team.

Where do you see WattStopper in the next few years?

We expect many changes in our products, technologies, services offered and our partners over the next five years. But we do not expect a change in our core values of being easy to work with, simplifying the energy code requirements, and delivering performance solutions to our clients.