A software glitch has left a high school's lights on for over a year

Daniel Sims

Posts: 753   +28
Staff
Facepalm: Daylight harvesting can help buildings save energy and money by intelligently controlling lighting systems, but the method failed for a Massachusetts high school in every way imaginable. The case clearly exemplifies the pitfalls of corporate contract software development and hardware installation amidst an unusual global supply chain.

Since August 2021, a Massachusetts high school has been unable to properly control its lights due to a software glitch. The software and hardware controlling what was supposed to be an energy-saving system became almost impossible to fix due to corporate buyouts and Chinese manufacturing shutdowns.

Minnechaug Regional High School in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, uses fluorescent and LED light bulbs attached to a daylight harvesting system. The system should automatically dim and brighten the lights throughout the day based on ambient conditions to lower energy consumption and save money.

However, on August 24, 2021, a power outage corrupted the software that has sole control over the lighting system. Since then, students, faculty, and staff at Minnechaug have been unable to dim the lights for video presentations or switch them on and off for individual rooms. They can only unscrew individual bulbs or use breaker switches that simultaneously shut off lights for whole sections of the school.

Otherwise, the lights remain at full brightness around the clock. The school district's assistant superintendent of finance estimates the problem is costing local taxpayers thousands of dollars per month. There are likely more expensive concerns in Wilbraham, but the lights at Minnechaug still cause many complaints and run counter to the school's original cost-saving goals.

The school couldn't immediately fix the problem because the company that installed the system in 2012, 5th Light, had since changed hands multiple times. After the school tracked down 5th Light's current owner, Reflex Lighting, Reflex struggled to find someone at the company who understood the proprietary system.

Outside software consultants couldn't patch the software, installing timers or on/off switches proved impossible, and Reflex estimated that replacing the entire system would cost $1.2 million. The only remaining option was to repair all of the hardware, but the job suffered multiple delays because supply chain disruptions in China affected the required chips.

With any luck, the repairs should finally happen during spring break. The school and Reflex plan to add a remote override switch in case another disruption occurs.

Permalink to story.

 

kiwigraeme

Posts: 1,390   +1,036
I appreciate articles like these sometimes. Entertaining, thought-provoking, and surprisingly interesting.

So many questions - not the same - but I bought a small accommodation business - it had 2 huge water heating tanks upstairs - whoever put them in = did not put in a $20 drainage tap/hookup - Plus you needed to drain both to change an element (2- 3 hours of draining ) - Off course the previous owner wanted a great price to install - but everyone would pay the $20 = probably $10 at time to put one in - so at least you can have it drained before plumber comes ( yes you could do it yourself but wattage/laws , insurance liability - re-checking wiring etc ) .
I did ask for the highest grade element - sometimes no choice as they buy the cheapest Chinese one - and check state of second one.
Anyway annoyed me - as if I was the installer I would never install such a system with no option to drain ( just simple pride )

The fix was cut a square hole in back wall ( on fire exit corridor ) - and attach a tap to an a bottom inflow pipe ( quickly ) - A system in a concrete place can do a "hotswap" ( ie pull element out , ram another in quickly , mop , vacuum water )
 
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tellmewhy

Posts: 230   +127
The switching on and off of external lighting is not usually under software control. They are normally controlled by a pairing between an electric relay (no processor, no data, no storage media) and a light-sensitive detector (sensor).

So it could be that this was damaged by the power surge, or that the sensor had something on it and that is why the circuit was always kept closed.

The sensors are usually a weak point in a system.
 

Robby-san

Posts: 13   +6
The switching on and off of external lighting is not usually under software control. They are normally controlled by a pairing between an electric relay (no processor, no data, no storage media) and a light-sensitive detector (sensor).

So it could be that this was damaged by the power surge, or that the sensor had something on it and that is why the circuit was always kept closed.

The sensors are usually a weak point in a system.
This is for internal lighting. The article states "Since then, students, faculty, and staff at Minnechaug have been unable to dim the lights for video presentations or switch them on and off for individual rooms.".
 
Should of just installed Lutron switches where all traditional switches would of been. And skipped the proprietary BS. Lutron is a leader in smart home tech and is in expensive locations. Can schedule the lights on/off, dim, and still retain a on wall switch to manually control them all. Would of been so much simpler lol.
 

kira setsu

Posts: 447   +434
They couldn't just tell the last people to leave to "turn off the lights"?

this is a hilarious and also stupid problem to have.
 

Gezzer

Posts: 316   +153
Wouldn't some sort of UPS be a standard feature of such a system? I where I work we have a similar system and our computers which control it among other uses have one. Power goes out and the computers stay up and running. I don't understand why a power outage could bring their system to it's knees...
 

Sir Sparkles

Posts: 144   +70
Wouldn't some sort of UPS be a standard feature of such a system? I where I work we have a similar system and our computers which control it among other uses have one. Power goes out and the computers stay up and running. I don't understand why a power outage could bring their system to it's knees...
Incident happened 7 years after installation... do you reckon they would have maintained the UPS batteries even if there was one? Unless that was designated to a particular role and scheduled it would have just got swept under the rug I reckon.
 

Gezzer

Posts: 316   +153
Incident happened 7 years after installation... do you reckon they would have maintained the UPS batteries even if there was one? Unless that was designated to a particular role and scheduled it would have just got swept under the rug I reckon.
You would hope they would. But when you consider how many people neglect all sorts of best practices, you're likely right. Well if they did have a UPS, hopefully this taught someone why you use them and keep them functioning properly.