Changes in Lighting: Industry experts discuss opportunities and challenges in lighting today

By Craig DiLouie | Apr 15, 2021






In the past decade, change has become nearly constant in the traditionally staid lighting industry. To learn more about this, read what professionals in the field have to say.

In your “Forces of Change” podcast for the Illuminating Engineering Society, you often talk about how trends outside the lighting industry can have a major impact on technological development and design. What forces are currently making themselves felt in the industry, and what can electrical contractors expect to see in terms of change on the horizon?

Mark Lien, IES: One of the strongest trends impacting lighting projects now involves controls. The integration of lighting controls with other technologies is not intuitive and can require education beyond the instruction sheet. Lighting controls can be a third-party voice-activated or building automation system. Various communication protocols like Bluetooth, Wi-Fi or proprietary solutions do not always work well together. Electrical contractors can differentiate themselves by their ability as system integrators. A working knowledge of the various protocols and best practices for integration will be critical for the foreseeable future.

Niche market segments like ultraviolet disinfection products have increased awareness and manufacturers are pumping out products to address pandemic-related demand. Post-pandemic, there will be increased awareness leading to increased usage. Understanding the risks and benefits as well as what constitutes an appropriate application will be critical to mitigating risk and making these installations profitable.

Renewable-energy sources connected to lighting will also require education but can be a profitable add-on sale. Energy efficiencies of light sources and fixtures have plateaued, so sales based on return on investment will decline, especially once LED lighting is installed. New technologies like Li-Fi have momentum, products are available, and the limitations of 5G in interior spaces will further accelerate the value of Li-Fi in the marketplace. Electrical contractors that understand how to implement data-flow solutions through Li-Fi-equipped light fixtures will be financially rewarded.

On behalf of the IES, Lien engages with more than 100 lighting-related organizations, writes a column and has a podcast series focused on the future of the lighting industry.

The COVID pandemic produced extraordinary interest in and development of germicidal sources as stand-alone and integrated devices. With the prospect of a vaccinated nation and an end to the pandemic on the horizon, do you see germicidal ultraviolet (GUV) or other germicidal approaches such as visible light disinfection enduring as a permanent feature of many buildings? Do you predict a halo effect in interest in other ways in which light impacts health, such as circadian lighting?

Robert F. Karlicek Jr., Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute: I currently doubt that GUV will be a permanent feature in most buildings, post-pandemic. While GUV will have its place in niche applications—like bathrooms—and in healthcare facilities, the energy consumption and maintenance overhead of GUV will not be attractive to building owners/operators. There are also concerns regarding deterioration of common organic materials in the built environment that may present additional facilities-maintenance and cost issues. Finally, perceived value through advertising GUV-disinfected environments as a “wellness” benefit may not work, as most people will not want to be reminded of the 2020 COVID pandemic, just as people wanted to forget the Spanish flu pandemic.

Cleanliness of the built environment will be presumed, and monetizing GUV installations will be difficult when the public puts COVID behind them, and past experience suggests that won’t take long.

Given my assumption that GUV won’t become a “feature” of a building, circadian lighting will not benefit from a halo effect. Circadian lighting may itself become more broadly adopted over time, though its quantifiable ROI will be difficult to show outside of healthcare and other 24/7 work environments given all of the non-illumination-related human behaviors that compromise circadian well-being.

Karlicek is professor and director of the Center for Lighting Enabled Systems & Applications at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

The DesignLights Consortium has two LED product technical requirements active this year. How will this impact product development, testing and evaluation among manufacturers and electrical contractors? Will it affect rebates?

Stuart Berjansky, DLC: As of Feb. 28, 2021, only products meeting SSL V5.0 and V5.1 requirements are listed on the Qualified Products List (QPL). V5.0 focused on improving efficacy across all product categories, while V5.1 begins to build a foundation for quality of light requirements, including spectral quality and glare requirements and additional controllability requirements.

The efficacy requirements of V5.0 keep pace with the continued evolution of LED, driver and luminaire technologies. The quality metrics of V5.1 require manufacturers to look at their portfolios and assess potential changes needed to their offering. With requirements around color performance, light distribution, controllability and discomfort glare, electrical contractors have improved quality of light options to offer clients.

Through the DLC’s open, collaborative process, we engaged with stakeholders to find a balanced approach to the V5.1 testing requirements. While the new quality metrics do, unfortunately, mean some increased testing burden on manufacturers, the DLC tried to keep the additional luminaire tests to a minimum.

With its focus on quality of light, V5.1 metrics (i.e., glare) have shifted some products from the Premium category to Standard. As such, there will be some shifts in the luminaire-specific rebates, so electrical contractors should make sure they reference the incentive program websites as well as the DLC QPL.

Berjansky is technical director for the DesignLights Consortium.

What are the major trends affecting adoption of lighting controls, and how do you see them producing opportunities for electrical contractors, particularly in regards to networked lighting controls and the role of controls in retrofits moving forward?

Charles Knuffke, Lighting Controls Association: We've just lived through a year unlike any that those working in construction has ever experienced. My heart goes out to those who've suffered loss both directly and indirectly by the pandemic. And while we're still waiting to fully understand the effects of the disease in our industry, we'll be dealing with a new "normal" in our jobs and the market opportunities.

Companies will be re-evaluating all the spaces that people work, shop and visit, looking to see how the lighting and controls in them can promote healthier environments. From changing lighting sequences of operation to having lights turn on automatically instead of manually on by a switch, to the introduction of UV and other cleansing-type light fixtures, to re-configuration of common area spaces to allow more distance between occupants and take into consideration the number of people working from home, these changes all represent opportunities for the electrical contractors.

The increased availability of high-quality fixtures with embedded controls (also called luminaire-level lighting controls or LLLC) have the potential to revitalize the lighting retrofit market. Interior and exterior fixtures with pre-installed wireless occupancy and daylighting controls can be set up into control zones via a phone app and can be easily networked to full building lighting control systems with additional gateways/border routers. After what we've seen happen to Texas’ power grid, these lighting-control networks will be a focus for owners and the power grid operators since they provide the foundation for demand-response systems—vital to maintaining a healthy power grid.

Knuffke is systems vice president and evangelist, Wattstopper/Legrand Building Control Systems Division, and chair of the Lighting Controls Association.

Rebates offered by utilities and energy-efficiency organizations are an enduring driver of demand in the lighting industry. What are the major lighting rebate trends, and how can electrical contractors maximize them to their benefit?

Leendert Jan Enthoven, BriteSwitch: With a slower economy and many early adopters already having upgraded to LED, energy-efficiency programs are currently struggling to find enough new projects to meet their energy-savings objectives.

As a result, for the first time in 10 years, we’ve seen the average rebate for LED lighting stay consistent year over year. Typically, these rebates decrease 10%–20% annually, so that’s a significant improvement.

Since summer last year, we also see a historic number of bonus programs, which are temporary increases in incentives for a relatively short time to increase participation. We expect these types of bonus programs to continue this year.

Contractors need to make sure they’re always quoting rebates on their customer proposals to improve the payback on projects and show the customer they go the extra mile for them. And contractors can use the increased temporary available bonus incentives and utility established rebate deadlines as motivators to encourage customers to do projects now and not delay them any longer.

Enthoven is president and founder of rebate processing and administration firm BriteSwitch.

White-light LEDs went on the market 25 years ago and now have a massive installed base across virtually every application, which is currently aging. What is the opportunity for electrical contractors to engage with past customers to re-evaluate and upgrade, replace or tune up installed systems?

Erik Ennen, NALMCO: Lighting maintenance has shifted over the years, and with white-light LEDs first offered for sale in 1996, the lighting industry and NALMCO have been working to continually update our industry best practices. There are several opportunities to engage past customers on lighting upgrades and maintenance. Energy savings, space redesign, lighting system maintenance and the ability to control the light levels are topics to review with past customers.

The new LED products of today offer additional energy savings and, with that, utility rebate programs around the country can help offset the installed cost of the new systems. Even 10% to 15% energy savings adds up when you look at the energy consumed over the lifetime of the product.

Space redesign has always been an opportunity, but even more so this past year with the pandemic. Lighting control systems offer flexibility to control lights in groups, adjust light levels, add schedules, and, in some cases, remote monitoring and control.

So, reach out to your past customers. Find out what their hurdles are. Your lighting expertise could help them solve multiple problems from failed lighting components, reducing high utility costs or adding lighting controls to a facility.

Ennen, CLMC, CLCP, CLEP, is facility services manager for the Center for Energy and Environment and a member of the board of directors for the interNational Association of Lighting Management Companies.

The National Lighting Bureau recently launched the extraordinary Trusted Warranty Evaluation Program, which is designed to set a performance standard for product warranties and recognize manufacturers that produce strong warranties. Overall, what is the state of warranties in the lighting industry? What are the pitfalls of today’s mix of warranties for electrical contractors, and what should they be looking for in a product they recommend, specify or install?

Randy Reid, NLB: The National Lighting Bureau (NLB) exists to create demand for “high-benefit lighting” by educating those who make and influence decisions about lighting. In addition, we help our members solve their problems.

We heard from several of our member companies that warranties are a problem as they are forced to compete against companies who publish long warranties but don’t honor those warranties. We wanted to create a mechanism where contractors could feel comfortable knowing that a particular lighting manufacturer had their warranty department audited by an independent third party. The goal is to give contractors, as well as distributors and lighting designers, confidence in the products they were purchasing. We also think it is important for contractors to know how long a manufacturer has been in business and where their warranty department is located and have direct contact to a warranty department—either by phone or email.

We just rolled out the program and have 14 lighting companies that have received the Trusted Warranty Evaluation Program (TWEP) certificate, and more are coming on board every week. Contractors can help by requesting that their lighting companies earn the TWEP seal.

Reid is executive director for the National Lighting Bureau.

About The Author

DiLouie, L.C. is a journalist and educator specializing in the lighting industry. Learn more at and


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