Navigant Research Blog

LEDs Lead Smart City Networks

— July 3, 2014

The path to more systematic and dynamic control of street lighting is being blazed by the adoption of light-emitting diode (LED) technology.  The continuing fall in the price of LED street lights has made them attractive to city managers around the world, particularly for new installations.  In our new report, Smart Street Lighting, Navigant Research estimates that 53% of street light luminaire sales in 2014 will be LED, and that percentage will grow to 94% by 2023.

This rapid transition to LED street lights is occurring as new, networked control systems become widely available.  These systems can bring added energy savings as well as additional value through greater control and reduced maintenance costs (see here, here, and here for examples).  Given the comparative ease and reduced cost of installing a control node while replacing a luminaire, the LED transition is proving to be a boon in the adoption of networked street light systems.  Navigant Research forecasts that revenue from the control equipment for such systems will grow from $197 million in 2014 to $477 million by 2023.

Illuminated Backbone

With the installation of a network that can communicate with street lights comes the opportunity to integrate those controls with multiple other intelligent systems: traffic light controls, security cameras, electric vehicle charging stations, environmental sensors, and digital signage.  The availability of both power and communications on street light poles throughout a city provides a ready-made backbone for many of those other services.  The same communications infrastructure can often be expanded for additional applications, and once the value of one such system is proven, city managers become far more likely to seek new applications for the technology.

In order to fulfill the potential of integration between multiple smart city systems, however, smart street lighting systems have to become more adaptable and more open.  In short, they need to look more like platforms than proprietary, closed systems.

Standards Emerge

The adoption of standards at multiple levels is crucial if smart street lighting networks are to serve as the platform for other smart city projects.  Standards adoption will open up the market and provide cities with more choice and greater confidence about the future value of their investment.

Standards-based software and communications protocols enable greater interoperability between systems, but there is also a role for more standards at the hardware level.   For this reason, the publication of a new standard by the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA) earlier this year is an important development.  Standard 136.41 defines a dimming controller and socket for street light luminaires.  The implication of the new standard is that, as long as a city purchases compliant street lights, it will be able to add control features, such as dimming and wireless communications, at a later date simply by purchasing any vendor’s compliant controller and plugging it into the top of their lights.  I discussed the new standard in more detail in a previous blog.

For a detailed examination of the benefits of smart street lighting for smart cities, the challenges still to be addressed, and Navigant Research’s forecasts for the growth of the market, please join us for the upcoming free webinar, Smart Street Lighting for Smart Cities, on July 8 at 2 p.m. EDT.  Click here to register.

 

Lighting Colors Evolve for Human Needs

— June 9, 2014

Complaining about the color of artificial light is nothing new.  Ever since fluorescent lighting took over office spaces decades ago, it has been criticized as harsh and sterile.  When compact fluorescent lights began making their way into homes 10 years ago, those same complaints followed them, leading many homeowners to cling to their drastically less efficient incandescent lighting.  The situation with outdoor lighting has been even worse, with the dominant high-pressure sodium lamps producing a monochromatic yellow light that makes object identification much more difficult.

Light-emitting diode (LED) lighting has shared some of the same color criticisms as fluorescent lighting, with many finding it harsh or unpleasant.  Advancing technology, however, has made it possible for LEDs to emit light of any color and to change the color of the light in real-time.  My colleague Madeline Bergner explored some of the new LED products that imitate incandescent lighting in a recent blog.  This will surely help silence the critics of color quality, but also raises the question of just what color light we should be using.

Color Me Productive

A number of creative uses of the color tuning ability of LEDs are already being implemented.  Boeing’s new astronaut capsule is outfitted with LEDs that emit “ambient sky-blue” light designed to improve astronaut moods, which could prove especially beneficial to people who will not be exposed to natural light for extended periods of time.  Back on Earth, another example is a partnership between Philips Lighting and Green Sense Farms, a Chicago-area commercial grower, to develop light recipes for indoor plants.  These recipes define specific colors of lighting for different plant types and different times of day, optimizing growing cycles and allowing Green Sense Farms to harvest more frequently.

Just as plants thrive under lights tuned to their needs, a growing body of science suggests that humans can benefit from the right mix of light colors.  The U.S. Department of Energy released a fact sheet in May discussing the science of LED light’s impact on health.  The primary conclusion is that further research will be necessary before color tuning for health can be broadly deployed.  However, it is clear that the optimal color for artificial light is dependent on factors such as the time of day, the type of activity, and the individual user.  Given recent advancements in occupancy sensors and ever developing networked lighting control systems, it’s not difficult to imagine LED lighting being constantly adjusted to meet all three of those factors.

In May, GE Lighting and startup ByteLight announced a control platform for retail store lighting that uses visible light communications to determine exactly where a customer is standing and send targeting information and advertisements to their smart phones.  A similar system could track individuals throughout an office building at the same time that specialized occupancy sensors determine the type of activity they’re involved in.  Factoring in the time of day, a smart control system could then tune the color of the lights over that individual to perfectly meet his or her current needs.  That could put complaints about light quality in the shadows.

 

Lighting Systems Seek Simplicity

— May 6, 2014

Many of the barriers to broader adoption of intelligent lighting control systems are quickly being overcome.  Lower prices for light-emitting diodes (LEDs), which are an excellent fit for intelligent controls, are leading to wide-scale replacements with that lamp technology.  The price for the control systems themselves has also come down dramatically, especially for wireless communication systems that remove the need for potentially costly rewiring work.  The lack of open standards – another previous barrier to lighting control systems – has also been largely addressed by a range of protocols that allow customers to choose one company’s luminaries, another company’s sensors, and perhaps even a third company’s controls with less fear of incompatibility.

One of the largest remaining barriers in this market is complexity.  The complexity of networked and smart lighting control systems limits adoption at every stage of a lighting project.  Architects, engineers, and lighting designers must be well-versed in the technology and the available options in order to select and design a system to fit a given project.  Networked controls also often require a specialist for installation, rather than simply an electrician.  Finally, building owners and managers must be trained in the operation of complex systems and have reasonable concerns that any problems or required changes could become costly.

Click Here

Lighting controls companies are well aware of the complexity problem and have released a slew of solutions to help reduce the obstacle.

Cree launched the SmartCast system in February, which allows luminaries enabled with the technology to automatically connect with each other to form a control network that attempts to maximize energy savings based on conditions in the space.  The setup involves the touch of a single button, a feature that Cree has trademarked as OneButton.

Enlighted offers intelligent sensors designed to be connected to individual luminaries, packaged with the local intelligence to control the light based on occupancy, available daylight, and even the type of work being done in the area.  These controllers can communicate back to gateways so that lights can be remotely monitored and managed.  However, by building the sensors and intelligence into each luminary, Enlighted has removed the need for groups of luminaries and sensors to coordinate with each other.

Auto-Lit

Daintree Networks addresses the complexity problem through an emphasis on open standards, so that its control system can work with lighting products from multiple manufacturers and customers can more easily mix and match products from various companies.  The company also describes its mesh communication network as self-healing, meaning that any disruption to communications is automatically rerouted.

These companies and many more are trying to address the problem of complexity in lighting controls.  A scan of company websites from Philips Lighting to Acuity Brands to Cooper Industries include words and phrases like “simplify the installation,” “quick-configured,” and “design freedom.”  Simpler systems will help convince building managers that they can achieve the benefits of energy savings and improved monitoring without the risks of complicated reconfigurations or incompatible equipment in the future.  And, in the majority of small- and medium-sized buildings that have no dedicated manager, lighting control systems that configure and run themselves without any intervention must be made available.

 

Green Light for Roadway Lighting Controls

— May 5, 2014

Numerous cities around the world have begun replacing outdoor lights with light-emitting diodes (LEDs), though many of them have not been able to take advantage of the superior dimming capabilities of LED lighting or the inherent controllability that this semiconductor-based lighting technology offers.  In order to dim an LED light, a control device must have direct access to that LED’s driver.  This means that the manufacturer of the LED luminaire must either integrate its own controls or partner with a controls company to allow for communications between the driver and the controller.  A city customer that wants smart dimming controls must, therefore, select both fixture and controls vendors up front, limiting its options and making the decision much more complicated.

Fortunately, this roadblock has recently been removed.  With the publication of NEMA/ANSI standard 136.41 in February, manufacturers now have a single standard to follow so that any company’s controller will work with any other company’s luminaire.  Products that meet this standard are quickly coming into the market.  TE Connectivity has begun manufacturing the receptacle and contacts that provide interconnection between a compliant controller and a luminaire, giving luminaire manufacturers an easy means to produce compliant luminaires.

We Approve

Big lighting players such as Acuity Brands and Philips have come out with products that meet the new standard, and even smaller decorative outdoor lighting companies, such as Sternberg Lighting, are committing to offering compliance with the standard as an option on new products.  The controls companies themselves have been very enthusiastic, with CIMCON Lighting announcing compliant product lines immediately after the standard was published and a representative from Sensus describing the publication to me as a watershed event.

Navigant Research expects that adoption of this NEMA standard will become so widespread in outdoor lighting fixtures that many cities will install compliant products without even specifically requesting them.  Those cities will then be free to add smart networked controls at any point in the future by simply plugging in compliant controllers into the top of lights.  This freedom, both in the timing of the controls installation and in the choice of what products to use, is expected to lead to rapid growth in the number of networked systems.  In a recently published report titled Outdoor and Parking Lighting Systems, Navigant Research forecasts that revenue from the sale of intelligent control devices will increase at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 18% through 2023, and that revenue from the sale of controls software will increase at a CAGR of 43%.  That growth will be driven by a number of factors, including falling LED prices and increased expectations for monitoring and control, but it will be facilitated along the way by standardization efforts such as this one.

 

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