Navigant Research Blog

LEDs Light Capital’s Streets

— April 13, 2015

There’s a certain glow to Washington, D.C. these days. It isn’t the cherry blossoms emerging after a dismal winter, or even the recent visit by Prince Charles and Duchess Camilla. It’s the street lights. In 2013, the District Department of Transportation (DDOT) announced plans to upgrade 71,000 street lights to light-emitting diode (LED) lighting. The installations finally started in March.

Each LED lamp consumes about 350 kWh less annually than the high-pressure sodium lamps they are replacing. In addition to lower energy, LEDs have a longer lamp life, which translates to lower maintenance costs. The quality of the light is also better. LEDs provide white light as opposed to the yellow light of high-pressure sodium. According to the DDOT, the white light provided by LEDs lets security cameras more accurately record color. As a result, the color of cars, clothing, or people involved in crimes caught on camera can now be better identified. Moreover, LED lighting enables more systematic and dynamic control of street lighting, as networked control systems can be added to street lights that can bring additional energy savings.

Free Lunch, Almost

Indeed, the numerous benefits of LED street lighting, coupled with the falling price of LEDs, is driving a global transition from older lamp technologies. Many cities around the world have announced similar programs to deploy LED street lights, including Los Angeles, Acapulco, and Guangdong. According to Navigant Research’s report, Smart Street Lighting, LED luminaires are expected to rapidly surpass high-pressure sodium luminaires as the leading technology sold.

So what should Washington, D.C. do with all of these savings? The city council has a long history of finding innovative new ways of spending surplus money (or not). Annual energy savings of about $40 per light for roughly 70,000 lights translates to $2.8 million — not bad for a city of 658,893. That’s enough to buy every resident a rush-hour trip on the metro from RFK Stadium to Friendship Heights. Unfortunately, it’s not quite enough for a chili dog at Ben’s Chili Bowl. Alternatively, spending the entire $2.8 million on a single item sounds fun. The Pagani Zonda Revolucion comes to mind.

 

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?

 

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.

 

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.

 

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