Sparks company seeking a niche for daylighting controls

The use of skylights to replace part of the need for artificial lighting grew in popularity in the past decade with the rising interest in green buildings.

But, Carl Keller notes, trying to work directly under a skylight is akin to reading a newspaper outdoors in bright sunlight, and it's not uncommon to see students moving away from the brightest spots in classrooms that meet part of their lighting requirements through captured daylight.

Keller, the president of Sparks-based Quality Control Systems, spent seven years developing a system to control the lighting in buildings that rely on daylight-harvesting, and he won a patent for the system in August.

Now comes on the hard part: Turning the invention into a business.

TLC Integration LLC, the company that Keller created to handle the daylighting controls system, has installed a demonstration project at Carson Middle School, and it plans to install more of them in other Carson City schools.

The system combines off-the-shelf components occupancy sensors, light sensors, shades, and controls to provide the right combination of artificial lighting with sunlight that comes through a skylight.

During cloudy days, or even when a stray cloud passes overhead, the system brings more artificial lighting into the mix. When the sun is shining brightly overhead, it pulls a shade to cut the glare.

Keller has been pitching the system to architectural groups across the West.

"You have to get the architects on board. They're the ones who are going to cut a hole in the roof of the building," he says.

TLC has drawn interest, he says, from progressive and green-oriented architects who are intrigued with the possibility of 40 to 80 percent savings on the cost of lighting.

Payback periods for the TLC system vary widely, he says, depending on the amount of work that's needed to install skylights in a roof. Daylighting systems often qualify for energy-savings rebates from utilities.

Still, the possibilities of significant savings are enough to draw the interest of building owners who are feeling pressure to reduce operating costs during the recession, Keller says.

And TLC also targets building-automation specialists who previously have focused much of their attention on heating and air-conditioning systems but haven't tapped the market to improve the efficiency of interior lighting systems.

TLC is getting a marketing boost from an eight-minute pitch about the company that's running on the Web site of ALPS Controls Inc., a major distributor of building-automatic systems headquartered in West Homestead, Pa. The segment is part of what the distributor calls its "ALPS U" program.


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