Major lighting trends—including LED, intelligent lighting controls, the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), power over ethernet (PoE), energy codes, and light and health—are creating new opportunities and challenges for electrical contractors. In an informative roundtable, ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR talked to six lighting industry experts to find out what impact these trends are having, where they are going in the next three to five years and how they will effect ECs.


The experts are James Brodrick, lighting program manager for the U.S. Department of Energy, Building Technologies office; Kevin Willmorth, principal of Lumenique, Menomonee Falls, Wis.; Eric Richman, senior research engineer—energy systems analysis for the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and chair of the ASHRAE/IES 90.1 Lighting Subcommittee; Gabe Arnold, program manager for the DesignLights Consortium, Lexington, Mass.; Mariana Figueiro, professor and Light and Health program director at the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, N.Y.; and Ted Konnerth, president/CEO of Egret Consulting Group, Mundelein, Ill.


What effect have the more robust capabilities of LEDs (e.g., precision optical control, tunable color output, dimming, new form factors) had on lighting design and the industry, and where do you see this impact taking design and the industry? What does this mean for ECs?


Brodrick: The advent of solid-state lighting is redefining what it means to light a space and changing our concept of what lighting can do. No longer does lighting have to be static or a simple matter of on, off or dimmed. LEDs are ideally suited to work with sensors and controls, which cannot only save additional energy but also provide such nonlighting functions as facility optimization and carbon monoxide detection. 


Because they’re directional, LEDs can be combined with advanced optics to achieve a high degree of precision. They can be made to have virtually any spectral power distribution and even to be tunable in color. And, their compact nature is starting to play havoc with traditional form factors—a trend that will become more pronounced as [organic LED] lighting begins to mature.


In addition, LEDs lend themselves well to networking—which requires an extra layer of know-how to install and commission—and may even become a backbone of the IoT.


All of this means more custom lighting and less off-the-shelf products, and it requires contractors to expand their knowledge, even as [solid-state lighting] technology continues to evolve. The biggest challenge is that, just when you think you know the answers, the questions change.


Coupled with the internet, LED and intelligent control technologies enable new business models and opportunities/challenges, such as alternative forms of distribution, lighting as a service, low-voltage installation and commissioning. What effect are these having on the lighting industry, and where do you see them taking the industry in three to five years? What opportunities and threats exist for ECs?


Willmorth: The impact of the internet, intelligent controls, low-voltage distributed lighting and PoE has been minimal to date, representing just a fraction of systems being installed today. This will change in the long run, but slowly until standards become more uniform and building customers decide what they need. The lack of uniform standards in controls is blocking widespread adoption, as every project is a nightmare combination of components that are not guaranteed to work well together. Meanwhile, internet service providers, information technology (IT) security, and the lack of robust security features within lighting controls are also causing some concern and reservation about connecting building automation system (BAS) components to networks accessible from outside.


Alternate forms of business, like lighting as a service, are capital-intense for the service provider and involve managing inventories of products going obsolete. This business model may grow in time beyond basic utility functions (street lighting) into parking garage, sports lighting and other specialty markets that can be built around a limited product offering with good financial rationale. It is unlikely that, in the next three to five years, this will become a large market share.


For the next three to five years, contractors will need to increase investment in staff members capable of commissioning and maintaining complex lighting systems and controls interfaces, including a growth in web/cloud connected interfaces and components. Whether a lighting system is installed as a light-for-service feature or capital asset, the need for distribution and licensed contractors for installation will not change appreciably. The customer may change from building owner to service provider, but the work and demands will remain essentially the same. While there will be some competition from product providers offering installation services, this will likely be limited to retrofit projects. However, there will also be several who hire contractors in the local area to complete installations as well.


The single greatest opportunity for contractors today is in growing their knowledge and expertise in the installation, commissioning, troubleshooting and repair/servicing of advanced BAS products. There is a growing variety of systems emerging, ranging from conventional products with enhanced features to completely new approaches, like PoE, and the exploding interest in wireless. At this time, the single largest complaint in seeing these technologies applied is lack of installer training and expertise, which results in costly errors and lost time. Contractors who address this and find a path to lead where others fail, in every territory, will realize success as waves of new controls and lighting system infrastructures rolls in.


What effects have commercial building energy codes had on lighting design, energy efficiency and product development, and where do you see code content and adoption going in the short term? What opportunities and threats exist for ECs today and moving forward in regards to energy codes?


Richman: I believe that energy codes have had a consistent but delayed effect on lighting design and product development. Initial, early code adoption transforms building practice slowly at first, but the code-compliant practice starts to spread across much of the industry. As a result, building design has transformed to incorporate effective energy features sometimes in advance of code adoption. Product development has followed suit, mostly in the area of controls, with manufacturers wanting to provide the products builders need to meet codes. I do believe that the lighting industry has done a good job of advancing lighting efficacy separately from energy code drivers, but these advances are quickly incorporated as part of energy codes.


It is clear to me that advanced lighting controls will continue to be an energy code focus. I can also see codes continuing to transform into functional requirements in place of specific control type requirements as the variety of control options continues to grow in the market.


I firmly believe advanced and onboard lighting controls will drive opportunities for the electrical market. This will come with some risk as advanced controls continue to evolve and bugs get worked out. The industry would do well to more effectively vet control functions and co-operability to ensure new advanced and wireless control offerings do not come with any potential conflicts with other systems.


Intelligent networked lighting control dramatically extends the capabilities of commercial lighting systems, but adoption rates are low at this time. What is the potential for these systems, and where do you see capabilities and adoption going in the near future? What are the opportunities and threats for ECs?


Arnold: I think the adoption of networked lighting controls will have significantly increased within three to five years but not necessarily of the most advanced, sophisticated systems. Certainly, market share for those systems will increase as we learn how to monetize their benefits, but we believe there will be greater near-term growth in more simplified versions of networked controls more appropriate for existing building retrofits and less sophisticated customers.


In the United States, there is approximately 10 times the construction activity in retrofit versus new construction, and manufacturers are investing and innovating to develop networked controls for the retrofit market. These systems are shipped preinstalled in light fixtures, do not require any re-wiring, and are easier to install/commission than ever before. This is where the near-term opportunity lies.


In the next three to five years, we expect most utility rebate programs will develop new rebates for these retrofit types, and some to require them to receive any rebates at all. This is a real opportunity for electrical contractors to start to get their hands wet with more simplified versions of networked lighting technology and deliver more value to their customers, while preparing themselves for the game-changing future that we expect will occur in 5–10 years.


Health is becoming a more important issue in the lighting industry. How close are we to actionable templates for various applications or industries, and what needs to be done before this is possible? Will the driver be health regulation or guidelines, or will it come from concerned end-users? What is the most likely driver to get the ball rolling?


Figueiro: Much has been learned over the past decade about the impact of light on circadian rhythms, and interest in the topic of light and health is certainly on the rise. My concern is that a lot of the talk only focuses on dynamic lighting systems or blue light. Light and health is much more than just these two topics. Light levels are just as or perhaps more important than spectrum alone. Timing and duration are also key factors.


The topic of light at night has received much attention, yet we should also be talking about how little light we receive during the day. Energy codes are bringing light levels in the built environment to levels that are too low for activating the circadian system. New metrics are now being proposed, including the circadian stimulus metric developed at the Lighting Research Center. But rather than wait until standard-setting bodies agree on new metrics or guidelines, lighting professionals can begin to apply current research to help people live better right now. For this reason, we developed a CS calculator to help lighting professionals select light sources and light levels to increase the potential for circadian light exposure in buildings, available at www.lrc.rpi.edu/­programs/lightHealth/index.asp.


Where do we stand today in terms of IIoT and PoE adoption and development, and what effect do you see these nascent trends having on lighting design and the industry in the next three to five years? What opportunities and threats exist for ECs moving forward?


Konnerth: PoE is still in its infancy. While there are advantages of PoE, the limitations include circuit sizes and size/cost of DC [direct-current] power supplies for larger spaces. PoE is mostly a new construction system and thereby goes through a specification influence, which indicates the labor provider: electrician, datacom provider, theater installers (CEDIA), ESCO, etc. The DC power supply is generally installed by the electrician as part of the home-run installation.


IIoT is the shiniest object on the planet—very new, but rapidly growing. IIoT is communication between machines, so the contractor role is dependent upon the definition of the types of sensors and location for their installation. The electrical industry is optimally positioned to “own” a large portion of the sensors, but how the EC will fit into this is ambiguous since it involves installation labor, configuration into an IP communication system and integration with an IT system.


The threat to ECs for both PoE and IIoT is the same: Which trade will become the primary installer? The opportunities? Huge—with training and marketing of advanced low-voltage technology, the EC market could readily expand into the rapidly growing low-voltage market, including PoE and IIoT.