face palm: Daylight harvesting can help buildings save energy and money by intelligently controlling lighting systems, but the method failed a Massachusetts high school in every way imaginable. The case clearly represents the risks of corporate contract software development and hardware installation amidst the extraordinary global supply chain.
Since August 2021, a Massachusetts high school has been unable to properly control its lights due to a software flaw. The software and hardware that control what was supposed to be an energy-efficient system have become nearly impossible to fix due to corporate buyouts and Chinese manufacturing shutdowns.
Minnechaug Regional High School in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, uses fluorescent lights and LED lights connected to a daylight harvesting system. The system shall automatically dim and brighten the lights throughout the day based on ambient conditions to reduce energy consumption and save money.
However, on August 24, 2021, a power outage damaged the software that alone controls the lighting system. Since then, Minnechaug students, faculty, and staff have not been able to dim the lights for video presentations or turn them on and off for individual rooms. They can just unscrew individual lights or use breaker switches that shut off the lights at the same time for entire 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 a month. There are likely more costly concerns in Wilbraham, but the lights in Minnechaug still cause many complaints and run counter to the school’s original cost-saving goals.
The school couldn’t fix the problem right away because the company that installed the system in 2012, 5th Light, has since changed hands several times. After the school tracked down 5th Light’s current owner, Reflex Lighting, Reflex struggled to find someone in the company who understood the ownership system.
External software consultants were unable to debug 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 option left was to fix all the hardware, but the job suffered multiple delays as supply chain disruptions in China affected the chips ordered.
With any luck, the repairs should finally be done during spring break. The school and Reflex plan to add a remote override switch in the event of another disturbance.