Jun 13, 2017

No one can ever say this industry is stagnant
By Don Peifer

“The only thing constant in life is change”


Ironically, this 2,500-year-old quote is as true today as it was the day it was written. The only thing I would add is that change exists on a continuum. The level of change, for example, in lighting has been nothing short of amazing. From lifetime expectancy to lighting’s role in IoT, the changes are too numerous to count. So I put together a list of the five most surprising changes:

    1. Forward ThinkingSolid-State Dominance. Back in 2007, when the average system efficacy for LED hovered in the low 20s, the thinking was that each technology has its strengths: incandescent in display, HID in area and fluorescent in commercial indoor. Even fiber optics were clinging to the side of the pool. Now, its LEDs all day long, up and down the channel. Not only have LEDs poached nearly every conceivable vertical, they continue to raise application efficiencies in their wake. Based on plummeting power density averages in some applications, we could predict that a decade from now, we’ll have reached the point of diminishing returns as far as the energy savings to be found in most, if not all, lighting applications. That becomes interesting because as an industry, we will then be focused entirely on what are, in effect, the soft costs today: sensing and controls in addition to light and health.
    2. Costing Down. At the same time efficiency for LEDs have increased exponentially, costs have plummeted proportionally. It really hit me during a forensic study of a popular edge-lit product. When I inspected the board, I was surprised to see the LEDs arranged—not in landscape mode a respectful distance apart, but in portrait mode lined up edge to edge. It was the equivalent of catching the subway at noon—expecting empty seats only to find the cars too packed to board. The opportunity cost of under-driving for efficiency and extended lifetime far outweighed the cost of the extra die. In 2007, LEDs represented 75 percent the cost of the luminaire. Today, the PCB onto which the LEDs are mounted costs more than the LEDs themselves, which is so crazy to me, it almost deserves its own spot on the list.
    3. Color Has Become Cool. The era of “architainment” was marshalled in when RGB solutions came online in the late 2000s. The results were not always pretty. Color-changing, due to misapplications, quickly became gauche in design circles. The saying went, “Those who don’t know how to light, do color-changing.” A decade later, we’ve seen color become a stable component in the palette of designers. Subtlety and variability have become harmonizing components in luminaires. Beat-you-over-the-head beams of monochromatic light have been replaced by quieter and calmer effects: diaphanous, barely perceptible shifts meant to evoke the mercurial nature of daylight. Some variability on plain, vanilla static white light is becoming a standard offering, which we can celebrate and explore to better effect.
    4. People Beginning to Grok Light And Health. I was on the fence with this one. It’s a relatively young science, and, as a result, there is still a good deal of healthy debate about the exact mechanism of the circadian system and subsequent lighting strategies. But while the science is still not definitive, we know enough. Many of the electronic devices that we have become fixated on as a society have begun automatically filtering blue light at night. That is huge. Not only is there a message about light and health that is indirectly being ingrained in a large percentage of the population, the computer and phone manufacturers have created an ad hoc policy initiative that could have real impact in the long run.
      We may still have things to learn about circadian lighting, but if you asked me 10 years ago if I thought the average person would know that blue light at night can affect sleep, I would have said, no way.
    5. Lighting Still Considered a Disposable Good. We all understood the potential for extended lifetimes of LED products a decade ago, and today regulators and specifiers demand it. That’s not a problem. The problem is that our preconceived notions about lighting systems haven’t changed. In addition to the long lifetimes, people want more choices for less money. The reality is: lots of engineering is required to meet lifetime expectations. In addition, fixtures don’t meet lamps at the jobsite any longer. The supply chain has compressed. Luminaire manufacturers need to design around the LED from the beginning. That demands resources. But the real issue is simpler than that, and it starts in the home. As consumers, we don’t really care how long an LED lasts. It’s a benefit, but it isn’t why we buy. We buy because they are cheap enough, and our expectation—based on what happened with CFLs—is that we may only get a year of use, at which point we’ll just throw them in the bin and get a new one. I think the biggest issue is that during the time this transformation in lighting happened, many of us had moved at least once, and the lighting budget for the places we moved (and moved from) was peanuts. There needs to be some catalyst to change consumers’ perception of lighting. Thankfully, the answer is right around the corner with the retirement of the boomers.
      As the aging population nears the precipice of assisted living, we’ll see a self-sufficient generation resist and look to their home environments for help maintaining their independence. Lighting, as the most ubiquitous component in the home environment, will be the bridge for intuitive home automation systems. It will help scan, diagnose, monitor and alert. It will optimize rest and promote healing. At that point, the lines between healthcare and home blur, and we not only meet the needs of a generation of individuals, we avoid what looks like an inevitable crisis in the burden of care giving.Sure, lighting today versus what it was a decade ago is shockingly efficient, affordable and cool. Ten years from now, however, it will be so much more.


Don Peifer

Don Peifer

Don Peifer is vice president of innovation at Acuity Brands... More info »