Navigant Research Blog

Lighting Innovation: Not Just LEDs

— July 23, 2014

Attendees at the LightFair convention in Las Vegas could be excused for thinking that the show was exclusively focused on LEDs and that LED lighting has already taken over the vast majority of the market.  Surveying the convention floor, new LED products were on display in every direction, and even the big traditional lighting companies seemed to only be showcasing their LED offerings.

Ones to Grow With

However, while LED lighting is starting to represent the majority of sales in some applications, such as street lighting (see Navigant Research’s report, Smart Street Lighting), many other applications, such as office lighting, are still monopolized by older lamp technologies and are only beginning to see competitive LED products.  Moreover, some companies are devoting R&D dollars to develop new non-LED products, and there will certainly be a role for those products to play in a future that will be largely, but not completely, taken over by LEDs.  A few examples of companies that highlighted non-LED products at LightFair are:

  • Indoor Grow Science (IGS) – This company had a much visited display of its high-pressure sodium (HPS) grow lights, which feature a patented method for venting waste heat so that it does not negatively impact plant growth.  A company representative explained that while IGS is working on LED-based grow lights, there are a number of challenges involved that its officials believe will leave the indoor agriculture industry using HPS and metal halide lamps at least for the near future.  Heat dissipation still has to be managed with LED lamps.  In addition, plants require UV-A and UV-B light, which standard LEDs do not supply.  While UV LEDs are available, they generally degrade faster, which could leave a grower with a light that looks operational to the eye but is not meeting the needs of the plants.
  • Luxim – Having made a splash at LightFair 2013 with impressive demonstrations of its light-emitting plasma (LEP) technology, Luxim impressed again this year with the launch of its Resilient brand of industrial-strength products that include LEP, LED, and induction-based lamps.  While LEP lamps have a tiny market share, this company makes a strong case that they can be the right choice in applications that require very bright lights, especially those that benefit from a small point source of light.  Another advantage is a lack of any flicker, which allows for the use of very high-speed photography in sporting and other applications.
  • Genesys – While not an official LightFair vendor, this company’s representatives were busy at the conference making the case for their gHID ballast.  As opposed to typical HID ballasts that operate at a frequency of 50 Hz  to 60 Hz, the Genesys product runs at over 100,000 Hz, increasing efficiency to be comparable to LEDs, as well as extending both lamp and driver life by factors of 2 to 3 times and 3 to 4 times respectively.  The gHID ballast is largely being sold as a retrofit product, where it can often fit inside existing luminaires or be attached outside of them.  Therefore, it does not require the complete infrastructure change that many LED retrofits involve.  In the longer term, the company sees its product as complementary to LEDs, providing a solution for applications where LEDs may not be as successful such as higher wattage lights.

While these companies showcased innovative non-LED products, the leadership of LEDs at LightFair 2014 would be hard to deny.  Out of 27 entrants for the innovation awards in the commercial indoor category, all 27 were LED-based.  Other lamp types may maintain sizable portions of the installed base for years to come and may continue to make sense in certain specific applications, but it’s undeniable that the age of the LED is upon us.

 

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.

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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.

 

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