Navigant Research Blog

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.

Flawless

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.

Touchdown

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.

 

Improved LED Christmas Lights Decorate the Tree

— December 9, 2014

As people around the globe dig through their closets this holiday season to locate strings of lights to decorate their trees and houses, a portion of those looking to decorate will decide that it is time to purchase new lights.  When those people arrive at stores or check out online retailers, they will find a wider selection of LED options than ever before.  Most of the traditional incandescent styles of string lights have been replaced with LEDs.  The question is: Will the average consumer make the upgrade?

One of the most important filters is quality.  A consumer may be interested in purchasing LEDs, but he or she first needs to know that the product will meet expectations.  Though LED decorative string lights have been available for a number of years, their quality has not always been up to par.  Early models were often quite dim.  For bare white lights, that dimness was not a large concern because the small points of light were still easily visible.  For styles with larger bulbs, and especially colored bulbs, the lack of brightness was a significant downside, as the lights hardly looked to be illuminated in any but the darkest conditions.  This shortcoming has been overcome.  Today’s LED string lights are every bit as bright as their incandescent predecessors.

On Flicker

A second quality issue that affected bare white lights was flicker.  Because LED chips can respond so quickly to changes in electrical current, alternating current (AC) power can actually cause them to turn on and off at the frequency of that power (50 to 60 times per second).  The blinking that results may not be noticeable when staring directly toward an LED light, but movement of the head or eyes can allow peripheral vision to detect the flicker.  When this occurs from dozens or hundreds of individual string lights, the effect can ruin the cheeriest holiday party.

Again, though, LED string lights on the market today have corrected this problem through improved driver technology, eliminating any perceptible flicker.  Indeed, depending on the style of light, LEDs can be virtually indistinguishable from their incandescent counterparts.

As with LED lighting for commercial and residential applications, prices for LED string lights have fallen greatly in recent years, but the LED version can still be 2 to 5 times as expensive as the comparable incandescent option.  While this range of price difference is similar to the premium paid for residential or commercial LED products, the business case for holiday lights may seem worse.

White Light, No Heat

In our recently published report, Energy Efficient Lighting for Commercial Markets, Navigant Research describes the various trends that are pushing the adoption of LED lighting and shows that upfront price parity is not a prerequisite to widespread adoption, especially if the payback period from energy savings is relatively short.  However, commercial lights operate for many more hours compared to decorative string lights, which may only be on for 6 to 8 hours per day, and for one month out of the year.

Other considerations will certainly influence consumers’ decisions as well.  Environmentally-minded purchasers might like to know that their holiday lights aren’t consuming any more electricity than necessary.  Those who are safety-conscious would surely appreciate that the lights resting on the dry needles of the trees inside their homes generate as little heat as possible, as LEDs do.  Overall, not every consumer will be ready to upgrade to LED string lights this year ‑ but the barriers are dropping fast and the future of Christmas decorations is almost certainly digital.

 

Wireless Bulbs Offer Connected Light Controls

— October 20, 2014

Homeowners around the world have begun to transition from incandescent and compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) to more efficient and higher quality light-emitting diodes (LEDs).  Navigant Research’s report, Residential Energy Efficient Lighting and Lighting Controls, forecasts that LED sales for residential applications will increase at a compound annual growth rate of 17.6% through 2023.  Within this wholesale shift of lamp types, however, is another trend with far-reaching implications.

More and more  LED light bulbs are being sold with integrated wireless connectivity.  Instead of being controlled with simple switches, or even physical dimmers, these bulbs connect to the Internet, often through the homeowner’s Wi-Fi network, and can then be controlled through applications on a computer or smartphone.

This capability may seem extravagant, but the trend is picking up steam surprisingly quickly.  One of the first entrants to the category of wireless light bulbs was the Philips Hue, launched in October 2012.  Since then, nearly all of the large lighting companies have launched products in this category, including OSRAM, GE, Samsung, and LG.  In total, 18 different wireless light bulb products are available from 16 different manufacturers, including Greenwave Systems, Leedarson, LIFX Labs, Belkin, Fujikom, Whirlpool, and others.

Mood Lighting

These products come with a large range of features.  All are capable of dimming, while only some are able to change color (Philips, LIFX Labs, OSRAM, Tabu, Fujikom, and Environmental Lights).  Through various software applications, the lighting can be modified based on the time of day, weather conditions, or any other user preferences.  Lighting can also be tied into other home systems, such as the Philips Hue’s ability to connect with the Nest Protect smoke detector and flash red lights when either smoke or carbon monoxide are detected.  The Hue even allows lighting to be modified based on programmed sequences as an audio book is being read to provide a fully immersive scene for the listener.

Wireless bulbs come with a significant price premium over their non-connected counterparts.  While outlets such as The Home Depot have begun selling standard A-type LED bulbs for under $10, wireless bulbs are priced between $30 and $60 apiece.  As this premium comes down, and as more users become interested in the range of possibilities made available through connected lighting, adoption is expected to increase rapidly.

 

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