Navigant Research Blog

New Zealand Street Lighting Updates Could Make for an Attractive Market

— May 5, 2015

New Zealand lighting designer Bryan King estimates that his country is roughly 5 years behind the United States in terms of upgrading street light infrastructure from high-pressure sodium (HPS) to light-emitting diode (LED). Recent developments and a successful Road Lighting conference, however, may help close that gap quickly or even put the small country in the lead. This makes for an interesting case study in how a smaller market can rapidly shift from one technology to another, undergoing the process at a much faster rate than larger markets are capable of doing.

Favorable Factors

According to Navigant Research’s Smart Street Lighting report, there are an estimated 370,000 street lights installed in New Zealand. This represents a small fraction of the installed base of the United States and other large countries, making the challenge of upgrading far less daunting. Another significant factor that this country has in its favor is that municipal lighting is generally owned by the municipality, rather than by a utility that may not have a financial incentive to reduce electricity consumption, especially during nighttime hours. In addition, 50% of funding for street lighting comes from the NZ Transport Agency. This government agency has recently stipulated that its funding must be spent on LED lights and not on older lamp technologies. That alone will spur retrofit projects and likely means that no new HPS luminaires will be purchased.

The recently held Road Lighting 2015 conference is also expected to drive adoption of both LED street lighting and networked street lighting control. The conference organizers were able to gather representatives from a significant portion of the country’s municipalities, who then learned from city managers and other experts from around the world who have already implemented LED and controls projects. While decision makers in the United States often seem reluctant to draw on international experiences, decision makers in New Zealand were quite eager to benefit from the lessons learned by their peers around the globe.

Road Lighting

A significant focus of the Road Lighting conference was on the use of networked controls to deliver advanced control features to street lighting systems. As discussed in Smart Street Lighting, networked systems are being adopted in ever growing numbers around the world, but many municipalities have upgraded to LEDs without also adding controls. A new and widely adopted American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard (136.41) means that adding controls after a luminaire has been installed is relatively simple, but it still involves physically accessing every single street light. Thus, it entails a cost and effort that deters many municipalities. New Zealand is in an excellent position to take advantage of the benefits of both LEDs and controls, installing both of these now maturing technologies at the same time to reduce costs.

It is yet to be seen just how quickly New Zealand will adopt LED street lighting and networked lighting control. The City of Auckland has announced plans to switch all of its lights to LEDs in the next 5 years, and the timeline is expected to be similar for other cities and only slightly slower for smaller municipalities. So, while the total market size is modest, the rapid changeover when conditions are ripe can still make a small market attractive to international manufacturers.


White or Blue Debate Reveals the Science behind Sight and Lighting

— May 5, 2015

The human brain is exceptionally good at perceiving the true color of an object, regardless of the color or brightness of the light that is illuminating that object. Your mind’s eye can usually tell that the color of your scarf stays the same as you walk from a dimly lit interior room out into broad daylight—even though the actual light bouncing off that scarf and into your eye changes dramatically. That is not, however, always the case. In certain cases, the brain can be tricked into misinterpreting the light and the contextual clues that it is receiving. This was the case with the picture of a dress that recently took the Internet by storm. Viewers could not agree whether the dress was blue and black or white and gold, and the difference hinged on how each person’s brain interpreted the type of light that was shining on the dress. The best detailed explanation I have found for this phenomenon can be found at Wired.

Undesirable Byproduct

While the phenomenon of this dress is fascinating, it is a byproduct of lighting that any retail store hopes to avoid. For many years, that desire has kept retailers from using efficient fluorescent lighting; instead, they have been choosing much less efficient halogen and high-intensity discharge (HID) lighting. No shopkeeper wants a customer to purchase a sweater that looks red under fluorescent lighting, only to discover upon walking outside that it is actually orange. With the advent of LED lights, however, those stores no longer have to choose between accurate color rendering and efficiency. High-quality LEDs have color rendering indexes (CRIs) above 90, approaching the benchmark of 100 given to incandescent lights. In many ways, the light from LEDs is actually superior to that of even incandescents, allowing a lighting designer to highlight and draw out specific colors. LED manufacturers have highlighted this aspect prominently, demonstrating how sample products can look more appealing under well-designed LED lights.

Shed Some Light

Another potential benefit of LEDs in retail stores is color tuning: the ability to change the color temperature of the light produced by the LEDs from a warm yellow to a colder white or, even more dramatically, all the way from red to blue. That could allow retailers to show their customers how a handbag will look under the light of the setting sun, as well as during the glare of the midday sun or under the monochromatic light of high-pressure sodium street lights. Such a system might also be able to shed some revealing light on the Internet’s favorite dress. It would recreate the glare of natural and artificial light shining from different angles and finally allow those of us who simply can’t make our brains see anything but a white and gold dress to accept the reality that it really was blue and black.


Indoor Farms Glow With LEDs

— March 4, 2015

Have you noticed that old factory on the edge of town glowing with new life? Perhaps there isn’t one near you yet, but early results from the new science of light-emitting diode (LED) farming are so promising that you may see one soon. Unlike traditional lights used for indoor agriculture (usually high-pressure sodium), LEDs emit very little heat. This allows the lights to be placed much closer to the plants, multiplying the capacity of an indoor facility. The lights also use less energy, and perhaps more importantly, they can be tuned to provide just the right wavelengths of light to maximize growth for individual plant species and further reduce electrical waste. The overall increase in efficiency and production is helping fuel what some believe will be a new boom in indoor agriculture.

The whole concept is quite appealing. In a world with rising water shortages, indoor agriculture can be much more water efficient. In a polluted world, this type of farming creates no runoff of fertilizers and pesticides into our rivers and oceans. And in a world with an ever-thickening greenhouse blanket, indoor farming (although it uses artificial light, rather than the free light provided by the sun) also eliminates thousands of miles of refrigerated transportation.

Pot to Plate

Thanks to the efficiency of the LEDs providing that artificial light, the overall energy consumption from pot to plate can be reduced. Navigant Research will be researching and publishing a report on the growing use of LEDs for this type of farming in second quarter of this year.

It is, at this point, commonly known that LEDs are a more efficient light source. Examples like this, however, show that efficiency isn’t the only difference. Low heat emission and the ability to tune wavelengths are enabling this boom in indoor agriculture. That same color tuning ability is also starting to be used for the light we shine on ourselves in offices and other buildings, providing the right qualities for the right times of day and improving productivity and health. The long lifespan of LEDs is doing away with the concept of separate lamps and luminaires. The ability to arrange LEDs into thin and flexible panels is allowing for fixture designs that were never before possible, and just might revolutionize the way we supply light to our built environment. All this from a still newly affordable light source. What other changes might LEDs bring as bright minds take advantage of all the unique properties of a light source that requires neither a filament nor a tube of gas?


Playing Under the (LED) Lights

— February 9, 2015

As my colleague Paige Leuschner has noted, the 2015 Super Bowl was arguably the most energy efficient major sporting event ever.  In particular, it was the first Super Bowl to be played under LED lights.  The fact that LEDs have penetrated all the way to this pinnacle of sporting events proves more than a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) test or a third-party certification ever could that this type of lighting has overcome all of the initial concerns over quality and has firmly earned its position in the mainstream.  A stadium that hosts the Super Bowl cannot afford to experiment with a lighting technology that might not be bright enough, might provide an inconsistent color quality, or might flicker in even the slightest way that could be picked up by the high-speed cameras that record every moment of the big game.  Other lighting technologies have met those strict demands for decades, so the choice to switch to LEDs demonstrates a confidence that this comparatively new technology would not fail.


Indeed, the LEDs at the University of Phoenix stadium performed flawlessly.  Each new fixture is significantly brighter than the metal halide fixtures they replaced, allowing the stadium to reduce the total number of fixtures by more than half.  Color quality was also improved through the upgrade, according to Mike Watson, vice president of Product Strategy at Cree, the company that manufactured the LEDs.  As for the ability of high-speed cameras to capture critical moments without disruption by flicker, viewers who may have watched and rewatched every frame of Jermaine Kearse’s miraculous catch as the ball bounced off his left leg, right knee, and then his hands multiple times can attest that the lighting stayed consistent through every single frame.


So, without risk of jeopardizing the quality of lighting, the Super Bowl stadium was able reap the advantages of LED lighting.  The new system uses only 310 kW of electricity, compared to 1.24 MW from the previous system, almost 4 times as much.  Beyond the resulting energy and cost savings, the stadium management could also rest easier knowing that the new lighting would be able to recover almost instantly in the event of a brief power failure, rather than being forced to wait for the significant warm-up time of metal halide lighting (such as in the 2013 Super Bowl).

The clear success of LED lighting within sporting facilities also reduces the potential of a rival lighting technology, light-emitting plasma (LEP).  Although LEP cannot match the efficiency or cost of LED lighting, it was once expected to compete well in spaces that require very high intensity light and where high-speed photography demands the absolute absence of any flicker.  However, given that LEDs have demonstrated their ability to meet those demands in one of the world’s most watched sporting events, it is unlikely that LEP will ever be able to claim the sporting facility niche.  Since LEDs are taking up the lion’s share of R&D dollars spent by lighting companies, as discussed in the Navigant Research report Energy Efficient Lighting for Commercial Markets, it will be hard for LEP or any other lighting technology to catch up in the near term.  The bright lights at the Super Bowl reinforced the growing dominance of LED lighting across an increasing number of end uses for years to come.


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