Department of Energy statistics reveal that approximately 22 percent of all electricity generated in the United States is used for lighting, and about 10 percent of that is used to power outdoor lighting applications. It’s a relatively small slice of the pie, but market activity is increasingly proving outdoor and landscape lighting to be a hotbed of activity and a great place to look for opportunities in improving lighting quality and lifespan while significantly reducing energy consumption, costs and maintenance concerns. Several major outdoor-lighting manufacturers discuss the trends making headlines in this market segment and ways for electrical contractors to stay on the cutting-edge of this dynamic field.

LEDs: the future of outdoor lighting


“For the last several decades, HID [high-intensity discharge] lamp technology dominated the outdoor market,” said David Grimm, vice president and general manager of outdoor products for Acuity Brands Lighting, Conyers, Ga. “Then, new technology, such as LEDs [light-emitting diodes], became available to improve the user’s experience with lighting. Early on, LEDs were used primarily where colored lighting effects were desired, and their usage continued to evolve into areas where maintenance was particularly challenging or expensive.


“More recently, however, applications with high energy costs started to make LED technology attractive. Today, with all of the advancements that have been made in optics, thermal management, chip technology and controls, there are few reasons to use anything but LEDs for outdoor applications,” he said.


From residential, commercial and industrial venues to gas stations, garages, street and roadway lighting, and to beautification projects in public areas, LEDs are revolutionizing markets once served by workhorse HID and halogen technology.


According to the Cleveland-based Freedonia Group’s recent “LEDs and High-Efficiency Lighting” study, LEDs for outdoor, street and roadway applications are expected to see some of the fastest growth in the professional lighting market, rising from sales of $135 million in 2012 to a projected $590 million in 2017. This growth is a function of their long life and durability in outdoor settings, outstanding efficiency and growing popularity in cities and municipalities that demand the benefits of reduced costs, heightened efficiency and minimal maintenance.


“LEDs have definitely changed everything,” said Ross Barna, CEO of Northvale, N.J.-based RAB Lighting, which first began incorporating LED technology into its outdoor fixture designs in 2009. “On the residential side, there was still a lot of incandescent, medium-based lighting and some screw-based CFL [compact fluorescent lamp] technology being used outdoors until about 4 or 5 years ago. And metal-halide was typically used for high-wattage applications, but it wasn’t always ideal for those settings requiring a tasteful use of light, which is what residential lighting often hinges on.


“On the commercial side, incandescent hasn’t really been an option, so up to this point, outdoor lighting has involved mostly metal-halide, high-pressure sodium and some electronically ballasted, pin-based CFLs.


“LEDs aren’t just something you buy simply because you need light; they are a great investment, one that delivers better returns than many investments on the stock market,” he said.


For all of these reasons and more, LEDs have become the dominant light source for area and roadway lighting and other outdoor applications, said Tim Hill, director of marketing and product management, outdoor lighting for Eaton’s Cooper Lighting business in Peachtree City, Ga. 


“This is not a trend that’s in the process of happening; it’s happened, past tense,” Hill said.


The following are some of the LED-related and other trends our experts believe contractors are wise to be aware of in the outdoor lighting arena.


• Tighter specifications—“In the world of LED technology, we’re seeing a continued emphasis on wattage reductions, greater efficiency, longer lifespans, enhanced durability and stronger product warranties,” Barna said. 


From the previous version of LED performance standards established by the third-party agency Design Lights Consortium (DLC) to its 2014 version, he said, there are stricter requirements for efficacy and light quality than before, resulting in a variety of previously approved LED products coming off the DLC’s list and a range of new products coming on. 


At the same time, “Utility rebates and other financial incentives are rewarding higher quality products, so it behooves contractors to be aware of these rebate opportunities and to know that manufacturers are continuing to redesign and reinvest in older LED products to meet new requirements in this rapidly changing field,” he said.


• Opening the flood gates—“In the commercial setting, LED flood lighting for building facades, signs, flags, monuments and many other applications has taken off because it’s a product category that’s well-suited to the directional nature of LED technology,” Barna said. “LED floods can be used to light so many mainstream outdoor applications that there’s little reason to use anything else.”


• Less is more—“The wattages of LEDs versus conventional technologies used to confuse end-users and channel members because they didn’t line up, but people are now better understanding the relationship between wattage, lumens and light output and are more comfortable with less wattage,” Barna said, adding that this all is driving greater pull-through of LED technology by the marketplace.


• Taking control—In both indoor and outdoor LED applications, “we’re also seeing the increased use of controls—such as bilevel, motion sensing, dimming and daylight harvesting—as a way to reduce energy consumption even further,” Barna said, adding that the proactive use of controls can improve energy efficiency by as much as another 30 percent over the already-attractive 70 percent savings that LED technology can deliver versus conventional technologies.


• Dark-sky considerations—As more municipalities voluntarily adopt the Model Lighting Ordinance (MLO) for outdoor lighting—which sets lighting requirements by zone type to help minimize light pollution and trespass and supports the ideals of the International Dark-Sky Association—the process of choosing the right luminaire with the appropriate backlight/uplight/glare (BUG) rating is critical to meeting this ordinance. 


According to James Benya, director of the Advanced Lighting Design Program at the California Lighting Technology Center at the University of California, Davis, standard floodlights, conventional wallpacks, and old globe and acorn-style outdoor fixtures are “glare bombs” and won’t any longer meet any of the standards except under very rare circumstances. What will meet the standards? 


“Electrical contractors can shift to luminaires incorporating LEDs, ceramic metal halide, high-pressure sodium, compact fluorescent and induction lighting technology,” Benya said. “But, I find myself recommending LEDs more every day because, as point sources, they direct light very effectively and can also be put on programmable timers to enable even further control, which is a powerfully important concept when it comes to minimizing light pollution at night.” 


In terms of the entire package of benefits that LEDs provide, he said, “no other technology quite compares.”


• A choice of colors—“A lot of users still don’t understand that they can choose the color of their light. They don’t have to live with the bluish tint associated with 5,000K technology and can opt for warmer colors in the 2,700–4,000K range,” Barna said, adding that, he’s confident that this is changing. “New California Title 24 requirements have driven lower [correlated color temperature], higher [color rendering index] products, and new standards requiring 90+ CRIs outdoors will drive more accessible, higher quality light for everyone, which both complements and enhances landscapes.”


• Going digital—“LEDs usher in a new era of digitization that has never before existed in the outdoor lighting arena,” Hill said. “As fixtures become ‘smarter’ with increased functionality and versatility, the possibilities for contractors to offer proactive, cutting-edge lighting solutions involving wired, wireless and occupancy systems becomes endless. Successful contractors will be the ones who get in front of this market dynamic to understand the needs of facility managers and end-users and ultimately bundle these services into unique value propositions that set new standards of competitiveness.”


• A new paradigm—According to Hill, one of the biggest challenges in outdoor lighting will be for contractors who rely on maintenance services as a large portion of their revenue. 


“While the installed base of legacy HID luminaires is still large, it’s shrinking every day as these sites are upgraded,” he said. “Contractors may have to rethink their lamp, ballast and lighting control changeouts in the future” as they are forced to re-evaluate and potentially reinvent their mix and business model.


Best bets


When considering outdoor lighting opportunities, our experts agree that LED products and lighting controls are the technologies to lead with, “but look first to where the incumbent technology has been deficient,” said Acuity Brands’ Grimm.


“Applications where owners have been frustrated with high energy usage, maintenance costs, lighting uniformity for security purposes, color consistency, or the ability to set light levels appropriate to usage are all opportunities to promote new technology. Certain applications, like parking garages, have long burn cycles, which help to build a financial case for upgrades involving new technology. Applications where color consistency is important, such as auto dealerships, are also great places to look,” he said.


Grimm also recommends that contractors embrace the fact that several old rules of thumb no longer apply.


“New technology has changed the way we select products, so it’s important to understand how issues like light trespass, glare and color temperature impact an outdoor installation as well as how equivalency claims are being backed up by different manufacturers to ensure accurate evaluation of and comparison between products,” Grimm said.


The biggest trend/opportunity in outdoor lighting “is definitely in retrofits,” Barna said. “Converting existing installations to LED technology saves energy, pays back the cost of the project in under two years, and then continues to pay it back for long after.”