Race to the Ceiling

iStock/ Sentavio

Every major change in the history of lighting has centered on substituting a new source of illumination for an older one. In the first half of the 1800s, gas lamps replaced whale-oil lamps. Later in the century, electric lights began to replace gas lamps. In recent years, LEDs have been displacing incandescent and fluorescent lighting. Such one-for-one exchanges are merely a continuation of a historic pattern in the pursuit of better, cheaper, longer lasting sources of light.

LED ceiling fixtures of the future, will likely disrupt that trend because they will do more than merely illuminate; they will also communicate. These advanced LED fixtures will be engineered with light fidelity, a wireless optical networking technology. Li-Fi-enabled LED fixtures will transmit data from the ceiling to computers and offer far greater data security than what is possible with Wi-Fi.

In coming years, electrical contractors with a reputation for retrofit work will possess a competitive advantage toward winning conversions to Li-Fi. Unlike traditional retrofits, this new variation will lead to a stream of recurring revenues from adds, moves and changes. It will invite an ongoing relationship with a customer and very likely lock out competitors.

Today, electrical contractors that foresee the potential in Li-Fi can position their organization for future success with next-generation LED retrofit opportunities in three ways. They can rapidly upgrade the style of their delivery by acquiring software designed exclusively to support lighting retrofits. Contractors also can bolster the professionalism of their marketing effort with readily available expert help, and they can prepare their companies to be first movers in Li-Fi by keeping a close eye on its development.

Acquiring the most important tool for lighting retrofits

Software designed expressly to support lighting retrofit work is critical to success. We visited with Jeff Seifert, managing member and COO of StreamLinx, Naperville, Ill., which produces SnapCount, a software designed to support every aspect of lighting retrofit activities.

The part of the SnapCount story that struck us most came in Seifert’s anecdote about a national big-box retailer that needed extensive lighting retrofits. Once they saw what the software could do, they exerted a strong buying preference for electrical contractors using it.

It creates a highly positive impression on customers when they observe an EC’s field staff using it. On top of everything, customers perceive a greater level of professionalism in the entire organization of such contractors.

Benefiting from readily available marketing and financing expertise

When we sat down with Ramsay Stevens, program director for NECA Project Development, to dig deeper into the lighting retrofit niche of electrical contracting, he quickly enlarged the picture for us.

“Electrical contractors should remember that every retrofit project is potentially a controls project, a solar project, an energy- storage-project, and, of course, a service and maintenance opportunity. It’s all about energy savings,” Stevens said.

NECA Project Development provides financing that permits projects to move forward, including pull-through work opportunities that regularly arise from service and maintenance activities. Stevens stressed how this department provides a wide range of resources to contractors in their marketing and proposal-making efforts. It’s more than just a financing source.

Keeping a close eye on Li-Fi development

Paul Chamberlain, president and CEO of Linmore LED Labs, Fresno, Calif., a leader in Li-Fi technology and its development, put the subject in context.

“Financially speaking, Li-Fi is not quite ready for the general commercial market today. Its technology is fine, but its pricing is not there yet. Give it two or three years.”

He explained that, with the advantages it presents for data security, Li-Fi will be sought after for military headquarters and big banking facilities. In hospitals, where the need to protect patients’ privacy and to restrict Wi-Fi from interfering with electronic equipment, there’s a ready market for Li-Fi. In schools, where health effects from children’s exposure to Wi-Fi has been under debate, Li-Fi may provide a solution. And, ultimately, the much larger amount of additional spectrum available to Li-Fi, versus Wi-Fi, may matter most of all.

There are ECs who have abandoned the pursuit of lighting retrofit work because they view it as an overly competitive “race to the bottom.”

But we believe that the emergence of Li-Fi technology will create the biggest change in lighting since prehistoric man picked up the first torch.

And thus, lighting retrofit can become a race to the ceiling.

About the Author

Andrew P. McCoy and Fred Sargent

SARGENT is an electrical industry consultant focusing on service expertise. He can be reached at fred@sargent.com. MCCOY is the Preston and Catharine White Fellow and department head of the Department of Building Construction in the Myers-Lawson...

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