Big Decisions Abound as Organizations Map Their Lighting Futures

July 13, 2016 By Carl Weinschenk

LED_savingsAs they plan their lighting future, it is important for executives to remember that though they are deeply linked, LEDs and smart lighting are two different things.

Both offer great reductions in energy use. LEDs, of course, simply use less energy to generate a given amount of light. Smart lighting leverages the Internet of Things (IoT), power over Ethernet (PoE), WiFi and technologies and techniques to improve the efficiencies of how those lights are used.

Yesterday, the St. Louis Business Journal looked at smart lighting controls in the context of the 125th anniversary of the founding of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) Local 1. The story does a good job of describing the advantages of smart lighting, which include turning lights off when they aren’t needed, providing granular focus on a particular area, automating lighting with other building structures, generating data on energy use and the ability to alert management of equipment failures and other problems.

These all are terrific attributes that will drive the market. Last month, BIS Research released a study of the sector that projects a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 12.7 percent through 2022, when the market could be worth $78 billion. BIS identifies the integration of security with smart lighting, the decreasing cost of LEDs, the growth of smart homes and the emergence of voice controls as drivers. The biggest market now is the United States, while the United Kingdom has the most upside. The key vendors identified by BIS include Acuity Brands – which late last month signed a major smart lighting deal with Target — the General Electric Company, Honeywell International, Leviton Manufacturing and Lutron Electronics.

The science of smart lighting is moving forward rapidly. Power over Ethernet (PoE) technology will enable lights to be put in places where it is difficult or impossible otherwise. WiFi, Bluetooth – which has been updated with Bluetooth 5 – ZigBee and other protocols will add flexibility and functionality. And, as always, there will be innovation. Last month, Disney Research – yes, that Disney — and ETH Zurich said that they have demonstrated LEDs that can communicate as well as illuminate. The visible light communications (VLC) system is conceptually straight forward:

LEDs can both produce light and serve as light sensors. By having individual LEDs alternate between sending modulated light signals and serving as receivers of signals, it is possible to create a network of bulbs that can send messages to each other and connect to devices, while having no discernible effect on room lighting.

There is a lot of money on the table, so smart and well financed vendors are in the game. Electronics360 offers a good example. Last month, it described SmartCast, an approach from Cisco related to its Digital Ceiling technology:

The Digital Ceiling partner community, currently composed of 15 partners including lighting giants Cree and Philips, is looking to use the overhead space in offices, hospitals, schools and similar infrastructures for more than traditional lighting or networking cabling. Tying together smart lighting (which will eventually go beyond efficient LED lighting options and include a greater number of sensors and perhaps even cameras in the luminaries) and networking capabilities (wired and wireless) will allow improved lighting use and create more productive environments, provide more accurate business analytics, lower total costs, and eliminate the need for separate data and high-voltage power connections.

The point for energy managers and facility managers is that LEDs are very much a moving target. Indeed, there are several technologies that are evolving in parallel. For that reason, it is very important to plan LED installations and retrofits with an eye toward future proofing. The question is simple: Is what a vendor is trying to sell you today capable of integrating with new technology as it becomes available? Standards, when and where available, will help. But, at the end of the day, close questioning on a vendor’s product and services road map is the best approach.

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