Navigant Research Blog

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.


LEDs Get a Makeover

— June 2, 2014

My colleague Jesse Foote noted in a blog earlier this month that high prices, formerly one of the major obstacles to consumer adoption of light-emitting diodes (LEDs), have begun to fall.  In 2012, LED bulbs cost about $40 apiece; now, the price has fallen to around $10.  Price aside, another remaining barrier to LED adoption is aesthetic: consumers dislike the harsh, bluish light emitted by LEDs.  Large lighting manufacturers as well as startup companies have responded to consumer preferences by releasing a variety of LED bulbs that mimic the light emitted from a traditional incandescent bulb.  Particularly as the U.S. incandescent phase-out continues, lighting manufacturers have begun to produce a more diverse set of LED bulbs for different lighting sectors.

Warm and White

Last March, Cree became the first company to produce a LED bulb for residential use that mimics the warm, white light of an incandescent bulb.  The TrueWhite bulb has also drawn customers due to its price (less than $10 per bulb) and design.

Since then, other lighting manufacturers have come out with their own versions of LED bulbs that look like incandescents.  Philips introduced a $12, 25,000-hour bulb in April 2014, and General Electric’s 60-watt equivalent Reveal bulb provides a dimmable LED option.  Ushio also offers a decorative LED lamp that gives off a warm glow.

The variety of players in the incandescent-like LED field is bound to continue growing as manufacturers recognize the market potential for visually appealing LEDs.  Recently, The New York Times ran a feature on a small company called Finally. The startup has developed its own bulb that looks like an incandescent, but is actually a refined form of induction lighting.

To the Streets

In early May 2014, the commercial sector saw the emergence of Cree’s LED T8 lamp.  By bringing down the cost of commercial LED lamps, this product captured some of the fluorescent-dominated market.  However, price remains a large barrier in commercial LED lighting, with the Cree T8 running around $30 per bulb, almost 10 times more than traditional fluorescent lamps.

The forthcoming update to Navigant Research’s Smart Street Lighting report will address the use of LED bulbs in street lighting, a move that has already saved cities around the world millions of dollars on electricity per year.  The emergence of LED bulbs that look like incandescents holds particular promise for more decorative street lighting applications.  Companies like Sternberg Lighting offer traditional decorative fixtures that are LED-compatible and offer a solution to installing energy efficient lighting fixtures in a nonresidential setting.


Shifting Chinese Policies Affect Global LED Supply Chain

— June 15, 2013

China plays an oversize role in the market for LED lighting, both on the demand side, with its massive consumer base, and on the supply side, with its huge manufacturing infrastructure.  China’s 1.3 billion citizens have begun to light their homes, workplaces, and streets with LED lights.  This trend has been encouraged by the country’s 12th Five-Year Plan, which sets aggressive targets for energy reduction.  On the supply side, Chinese government policies have been even more aggressive, subsidizing the purchase of LED manufacturing equipment to the tune of $1.2 billion in 2011 alone.  The government has been explicit about its desire to foster the growth of home-grown LED companies.

The year 2012 saw a large amount of consolidation in the LED industry, especially among Chinese manufacturers.  A global oversupply of LED manufacturing capacity, driven largely by Chinese companies but also by falling demand for other LED products such as backlit monitors, led to falling prices and numerous manufacturer bankruptcies.  Up to 20% of Chinese LED manufacturers are expected to face bankruptcy or liquidation.

Subsidy Slide

Now, the Chinese government has apparently reacted with a shift in policies.  A report by the Global Times in May shows drastic reductions in Chinese government subsidies for LED manufacturing equipment.  Chinese LED chip manufacturers, such as Elec-Tech International and Sanan Optoelectronics, have posted dramatically lower first quarter earnings, blamed largely on the reduction in government subsidies.

This shift in policy leaves open the question of the role that China will play in the global LED supply chain for lighting products going forward.  As described in a Navigant Research report, LED Supply Chain Dynamics, Chinese suppliers must improve the quality of its LED chip manufacturing in order to produce the high output chips needed for lighting applications, the LED segment with the strongest future growth prospects.  Currently, Chinese companies are forced to purchase high-output LED chips from foreign vendors, preventing them from vertically integrating their manufacturing process and truly competing with the global market leaders.

There have been signs that Chinese companies intend to bridge this gap: in November 2012, China-based San’An Optoelectronics said it will acquire a portion of Taiwan-based Formosa Epitaxy.  However, the reduction of government assistance through equipment subsidies and other policies may make it more difficult for Chinese companies to bridge the technology gap.  With LED lighting poised to take over significant market share from traditional lighting technologies in the coming years, there is a great deal at stake in determining which countries around the world will supply this expanding market.


Rembrandt, In a New Light

— April 23, 2013

After an extensive 10-year renovation, the Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam reopened its doors earlier this month to visitors coming to see the work of Dutch masters such as Rembrandt and Vermeer.  In addition to the 17th century masterpieces, those visitors will also be treated to a marvel of the 21st century: LED lighting.  Three-quarters of a million LEDs from Philips now light the museum’s 7,500 works of art and over 100,000 square feet of space.   The Rijksmuseum is joining a rapidly growing number of art museums that have already switched to this light source, including the Louvre in Paris, France, the Kunstkammer Wien in Vienna, Austria, the De An Art Gallery in Zhongshan City, China, and the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, Texas.  There is even a newly created LinkedIn group focused on LED lighting for art and museums.

When choosing a light source, the two primary considerations for any art museum are the visitor experience and the preservation of artwork.  For both of these considerations, LED lighting is the clear frontrunner.  Light quality and color rendering from LEDs have advanced to a point where Tim Zeedijk, the head of exhibitions at the Rijksmuseum, said that the recent lighting upgrade “allows the art to be viewed in the best light possible to bring out all the colors and details that the artist intended us to see.”

Applications Expand

Regarding artwork preservation, reducing the exposure to ultraviolet light is a key strategy.  Fluorescent, halogen, and high-intensity discharge lighting all emit UV light, forcing art museums to use filters and limit the amount of time that any individual piece is on display.  LED lighting, on the other hand, emits no UV light, relieving a significant concern for curators and giving them new flexibility.  All of the other benefits of LED lighting also apply to museums, including reduced electricity consumption and longer-lived lamps.

Art museums provide another example of a specific application where LED lighting is already the best choice.  Others include cold storage facilities, where the efficiency benefits of LEDs are doubled by the savings in cooling energy, and high-ceiling atriums where the cost of replacing burned out lamps is exorbitant.  As the quality of LEDs continues to improve and the price of LEDs continues to fall, the list of applications where LED lighting is the best choice will continue to grow.  This combination of factors has led Navigant Research to forecast that unit sales of LED lamps will increase worldwide at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 44%, as reported in our recently released study, Energy Efficient Lighting for Commercial Markets.


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