Lighting has some basic qualities: direction, color, diffusion, and intensity. The first three are typically static in buildings, depending on the location of the light, the source, and luminaire characteristics. But intensity should be variable. If a sound system needs volume control and an HVAC system needs a thermostat, then a lighting system needs dimming control.
A real benefit of incandescent and halogen lighting is that they are inherently, simply, and inexpensively dimmable, in a full range from zero to 100 percent. No flicker, no noise, no problem. A real downside of more energy efficient sources - fluorescent, compact fluorescent, metal halide, and even LED - is that dimming is costly, awkward, and/or non-existent. This limits the utility and flexibility of high-performance lighting systems. It often drives design decisions toward using more luminaires to achieve a range of lighting intensities to vary the visual perception and mood of a space. This means more installed stuff (or mass) in the ceiling: luminaires, special ballasts or power drivers, and wiring. The good news is that solid state LED luminaires are increasingly provided from the factory as inherently dimmable. The better news is that emerging control technology is wirelessly and/or digitally addressable.
Well-known lighting control companies like Lutron and Watt Stopper offer a wide range of wireless occupancy and daylight responsive systems that integrate with their digital control systems. Sensor Switch has a whole new line of NLight digital controls products.
This is an important step in bringing down the cost of dimming and controls, as well as the material content of those systems. By greatly reducing the amount of copper wiring previously required to separately power and control individual luminaires, the equipment and installation costs of well-controlled architectural lighting systems will drop. Wireless control devices or those that only need CAT5 data wiring eliminate the need for metal conduits and material bulk in ceiling plenums. Retrofitting of existing lighting systems will be easier, resulting in cost-effective daylight and occupancy controls to save energy. As lighting controls become affordable, flexible, and adaptable, while efficient solid-state LED lighting enables inherent dimmability, my desire for simple intensity control can be fulfilled. Then I can start working on manufacturers to develop luminaires that can change their direction, color, and diffusion qualities.