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“The lights, they are a changing,” to tweak a line from Bob Dylan. Current lighting trends, which are driven by the call for energy efficiency and advances in technology, are signs of an industry in flux.
For instance, light-emitting diode (LED) fixtures are improving and revolutionizing the marketplace. And LED fixtures are increasing in use, sometimes in lighting schemes that are becoming more nuanced and dramatic. Also, a broader range of lighting sources is being used to illuminate spaces in commercial, industrial and residential settings. In addition, retrofits and lighting replacement projects in commercial and residential buildings—due to the phase-out of traditional, inefficient light sources—are providing many opportunities in a down market.
Modular LED solutions, a term that refers to a subassembly that has the requisite light source, electronics, optics and much of the thermal management necessary to be the light engine or source—think next-generation lamps—are paving the way for wider adoption of LEDs. These modules—from major manufacturers such as Molex, GE, Philips and Sylvania—make it possible to use the same ones across additional applications, including downlights, track heads, pendants and outdoor lighting. The interconnect technology offers interchangeability and upgradeability to interior and exterior luminaire manufacturers.
In 2011, Molex collaborated with Bridgelux to create the Helieon 120-volt (V) alternating current (AC) sustainable light module, which connects directly to 120V AC line voltage input, eliminating the need for external drivers and is compatible with a wide range of commercially available dimmers.
This product won the Lightfair International (LFI) Most Innovative Product of the Year Award in 2010. It is the first plug-and-play sustainable solid-state lighting system to create high-
efficiency lighting with a socketed solution. (LFI is the world’s largest annual architectural and commercial lighting trade show and conference.)
“Before its introduction in 2010, you couldn’t easily change out the LED once it was in the fixture, since it was only for that fixture,” said Mike Picini, vice president, Molex. “With Helieon, we’ve seen some fixture manufacturers very easily take their existing fixtures, and with small modifications, turn a fixture they invested in a year ago into a standard fixture that can be used with an LED, dramatically reducing their time to market. That is really important for fixtures targeted at retail applications where, at least four times a year, the retailer is going to change out their product. Retailers do not want to change out the entire fixture every time a new line of product is to be displayed,” Picini said.
GE Lighting, Cleveland, introduced its GE Infusion LED module in 2010, unique in that it has a wattage-adjust switch that allows for three different light levels. GE’s future plans include offering a module in the 40–55 watt (W) range and a variety of beam distributions from wide to narrow.
Another offering, Philips’ Fortimo LED modules have a color-rendering index of greater than 80 and a lifetime of up to 50,000 hours with a Philips five-year limited warranty.
While there is a lot of ink and talk about LEDs, widespread use is not yet a trend.
“When you look at industrial development, there are two phases. There’s early adoption and mass adoption, and with LEDs, we’re in the early adoption phase,” said Debra Fox, LPA Inc. of Irvine, Calif. “LED fixtures currently make up only a single digit percentage of the industry, even though for the last couple of Lightfairs, every aisle was filled with LED exhibits. Within a year, I think we’ll be into more standardization, into more friendly products, and the learning curve will be simpler. It will then become mass adoption, not unlike the automobile or computer. Right now, all the manufacturers are trying to make their products easier to use. Everyone is deciding how they are going to approach the market. Some are looking for the standard. Others are aiming to be the standard, and some want to start a new one.”
While standards for LEDs still are being determined by The Zhaga Consortium along with the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), the Illuminating Engineering Society (IES) and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI), one current trend is increasing use of LEDs in combination with other light sources in offices, retail, residential and outdoor settings.
“I’m a big believer that you can mix lighting sources,” said Erin Erdman, Principal, e lighting design, Hermosa Beach, Calif., a firm that works on high-end residential projects as well as office spaces, landscape, retail, education projects. “You can mix LEDs with metal halide and fluorescent, but you have to be mindful. When you start comparing color, one 3,000-kilowatt [kW] LED light from one manufacturer will not look the same as a 3,000-kW from a different manufacturer. You can’t just go by what the manufacturer tells you. We do a lot of mockups in our office and with our clients to see how things will look in real life.
“I have a few projects that are all LEDs, but mostly it is a mixture of fluorescent and LED. Ten years ago, we were mostly using fluorescent and some halogen, but now ceramic metal halide and LEDs are being used in offices or retail. Several manufacturers are coming out with 2-by-2-foot or 2-by-4-foot LED fixtures that go into a tile ceiling in offices or open office areas. Ceramic metal halide is being used in a lot of exteriors but also in offices, atriums, lobbies and in retail. Its advantage is that it is available in the traditional lamp-holder styles, but its greatest disadvantage is that it is nondimmable. However, it is a much more efficient light source than halogen.
“In residential, I’m finding that people are interested in downlighting with LEDs versus traditional halogen or incandescent downlights,” Erdman said. “Several houses we’ve done are all LEDs, particularly in architectural fixtures that are built into the house’s 4-inch recessed downlights. LED does give the option for different colors of light depending on the fixture you select. You can add dynamic light into the spaces with color-changing light depending on client needs. We’ve been using color-changing LEDs in swimming pools to add an element of interest to houses. That’s appealing to some of my clients who do a lot of entertaining. I’m working now on a house that has a staircase with a glass enclosure with three LED downlights with color-changing options above it. The staircase is like a beacon from the exterior. Five years ago that wasn’t happening,” she said.
Advancing the development of the LED, the decorative OLED (an LED composed of thin films of organic molecules that emit light with the application of electricity) promises wildly creative lighting schemes. Acuity’s OLED luminaire, Revel, received the Most Innovative Product of the Year at the 2011 Lightfair. It is a first-of-its-kind lighting system made up of modules that are connected by plug-in mounting and can be clustered into different patterns. It will enable designers to break away from the conventional regimen of grid-based luminaire layouts.
LEDs alone or in combination with other lighting sources also are creating more sophisticated outdoor lighting schemes. Exteriors of buildings have become a canvas in some cities.
“For lighting a wall, you might have five different colors of fluorescent lights now with a color spectrum that is no longer cool white,” said Bruce D. Shelly, president, Shelly Electric Co. Inc., Philadelphia. “For historic renovations in Philadelphia, LEDs have certainly been a great application because of their small size and low electrical usage. You don’t want to ruin the historic value of the buildings, and LEDs seem to be doing a great job [of preserving] that,” Shelly said.
In New York, a city that could be called a showplace of lighting, one designer recently viewed a lighting demonstration at the Bank of America building, where a new outdoor high-output LED fixture by Strong Lighting was lit in a combination with a fluorescent fixture and produced a 3-degree beam at more than 100 feet.
“That’s something that wouldn’t have been done before; metal halide would have been used. Lighting can add an interesting layer to the design, and that is becoming much more of a market,” said Kyle Chepulis, owner of Technical Artistry, New York.
While advances in lighting technology can create visually interesting situations, the advances also mean big change for most electrical contractors.
“Until recently, we could review a light fixture schedule, add some material, apply a labor unit and feel confident we had it covered,” said Jim Breslin, estimator/project manager, Wm. A. J. Shaeffer’s Sons Inc. “With a general fit-out with standard 2-by-4 or 2-by-2 fixtures, we knew exactly what they were and how they must be installed. Today, with many projects that include daylight harvesting, LED lighting and some rather sophisticated controls, we have to look at the functionality, assembly and related components for almost every fixture. We have to really understand the new types of lighting and their associated controls before we can start applying labor factors because the lighting industry is changing very quickly. What I took time to research this year may be out of favor with lighting designers next year. It just keeps progressing. Understanding the product you’re bidding is key these days.”
One lighting trend that offers promise in today’s down market is an increase in retrofits and lighting replacement projects for exterior lighting and in commercial and residential buildings, projects spurred by utility incentives and rebates available across the country. Many projects feature replacement of traditional inefficient high-pressure sodium (HPS) streetlights with LEDs and induction lights. As part of the trend, some electrical contractors are approaching existing customers to perform preliminary energy audits that result in replacement or retrofit of existing systems if the economic payback justifies the project. The projects benefit both electrical contractors and the companies they serve.
“Lighting retrofitting is a large part of our business,” said Dennis Wells, COO, Fulham North America. “Not many new homes or warehouses are being built right now. If we can offer a lighting solution by replacing a HID system with an induction or LED retrofit that cuts a business owner’s energy bill in half, generates a two-year payback, and the customer can get rebates from their local utility along with a tax credit from the federal government, we can grow our business while saving the customer money.
“If the customer wants to gain even more savings, now we need to talk about lighting controls,” he said. “You can normally get another 20 percent savings with a lighting control system.”
Increased use of lighting controls is another current trend.
“The potential is definitely there over the next couple of years for there to be significant increase in adding lighting controls onto lighting systems whether they be roadways, interior or exterior or buildings for lighting,” said Jim Filanc, director of marketing, Southern Contracting Co., San Marcos, Calif., whose company is completing a street light replacement project for the city of Chula Vista, Calif., in which they are replacing approximately 4,300 100W HPS luminaires with 52W dimmable LED ones.
Increasing installation of lighting controls and other lighting technology also calls for increased attention on the part of the electrical contractor.
“The technology that’s now being specified is more sophisticated than the typical electrician in the field has been taught to deal with. It’s changing so quickly,” said Dan Gleason, project executive, Morrow Meadows Corp., City of Industry, Calif. “Now we are seeing lighting control panels that have a smart board in it and a data cable that goes to it. It can do any number of things and will work or won’t work with some other manufacturers ballasting products or drivers, so figuring out what will talk to another part of the system is the challenge. As a company, we are attempting to keep up with the marketplace developments, and we are going to be reaching out to manufacturers and requesting in-house training to get us up to speed on what’s being rolled out.”
That company is not alone in its efforts to stay abreast of the changes.
“Change is afoot,” to borrow from Shakespeare’s “King Henry IV.” And change is what the current lighting trends mean to most electrical contractors.
CASEY, author of “Kids Inventing! A Handbook for Young Inventors” and “Women Invent! Two Centuries of Discoveries that have Changed Our World,” can be reached at [email protected] and www.susancaseybooks.com.