Navigant Research Blog

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.

 

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.

 

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