The Age of Enlightenment

Terry McGowan has an interesting way of presenting a historical perspective to current advancements in the lighting world. In his view, we are beginning another age of light.

From his vantage point as the director of engineering for the American Lighting Association, he described the progression of electric-powered lighting development.

“The first age [was] the introduction of incandescent lamps (1879–1900). A second age was the introduction of fluorescent lamps (1940s), an age of abundance as the cost of electric lighting came down dramatically. In the 1960s and 1970s came the age of refinement, when exotic discharge light sources appeared. Lighting became so complex that lighting professionals or designers emerged.”

Now, according to McGowan, it’s happening again.

“This fourth age of light is characterized by new technology, electronics and solid-state lighting moving to the forefront, led by efficient, increasingly powerful and tiny chips called LEDs,” McGowan said.

Considering the lighting manufacturing segment’s ability to bring to market devices that accomplish these tasks, he may be onto something. For example, Philips Lighting Co., Somerset, N.J., introduced a new family of fully dimmable Halogená Energy Advantage (HEA) lamps that the company claims deliver crisp, bright light and long life.

“The lamps reduce energy usage by 30 to 47 percent over traditional incandescent technology and last at least two to three times the 1,000-hour lifespan of incandescents. HEA represents an energy-efficient alternative to CFLs,” said Susan Bloom, Philips’ director of corporate communications. “Our HEA is currently the only incandescent/halogen bulb that will meet the new efficiency standards for ‘A’ shape lamps set forth in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.”

In Peachtree City, Ga., Cooper Lighting introduced dimmable compact fluorescent lamps (CFL) with a range of dimming capabilities to its Halo recessed downlighting product line. The products feature electronic ballasts, high light output and dimming from 15 to 100 percent. The 5- and 6-inch housings use 26- and 32-watt lamps and accept either triple twin tube or double twin tube CFL lamps.

Air-tight housings prevent airflow from escaping into attic spaces and are rated for direct contact with ceiling insulation. Trim options include reflectors, baffles and wall wash.

Of the light-emitting diode (LED) front, Steve Landau at Philips Lumileds Lighting Co., San Jose, Calif., said, “The new [LUXEON] Rebel is the smallest surface-mountable power LED available today. It boasts the industry’s highest light density and the highest packing density. It is designed for use in space--constrained and conventional solid-state lighting applications.”

Measuring only 3 mm-by-4.5 mm, the Rebel’s footprint is 75 percent smaller than other surface-mounted power LEDs.

Landau boasts of 80 lumens in cool white at 350 mA, and a 50,000-hour life span at 700 mA with 70 percent lumen maintenance.

“Rebel is the first power LED to offer guaranteed minimum performance specifications,” he said.

In the world of recessed lamps for new installations and retrofits, Cree LED Lighting Solutions Inc. introduced the LR6, an LED downlight designed for use in standard 6-inch housings.

“Previously, LED home lighting products fell short in color, efficiency or longevity. Our discovery of the industry’s best white light from LEDs enables a warm, inviting light from the most energy-efficient and long-lasting source of indoor lighting,” said Gary Trott, vice president of market development. “Cree’s products have the color of incandescent bulbs and industry-leading efficacy without the harmful mercury.”

Energy saving: A case study

In a move Wal-Mart claims to be the largest commercial LED installation in the U.S. retail segment, the company replaced fluorescent lamps in refrigerators and freezers with motion sensor-driven LEDs.

In Wal-Mart’s stores, the motion sensor-driven lights automatically turn off when not in use for 30 seconds, but are reactivated when a customer’s presence is detected. In one instance, LEDs replaced fluorescent lighting that was burning 24 hours a day.

Ralph Williams, Wal-Mart’s senior engineer, said, “Unlike fluorescent lights, LEDs can be switched on and off in cold temperatures without any loss of life expectancy. In fact, turning them off will increase the lifespan of the LEDs, so that the service life of the lighting will be as long as that of the refrigerated cases, virtually eliminating the need for maintenance.”

Fluorescent lighting was considered to be hampered by very high-maintenance, caused by condensation and the resulting corrosion of contacts in the lamp holders, he said.

Following testing, Williams said, “The company could realistically expect LED case lighting to be off in excess of 40 percent of the time. Because the LEDs use less power and generate less heat than fluorescents, and none when turned off, cooling compressors are not required to run as often.”

The company claims that the overall energy savings realized is approximately 3 percent of the total energy usage of the stores.

On the horizon

With the development of DaySwitch, scientists at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s Lighting Research Center (LRC) have elevated daylight harvesting to a new level. Now that the efficacy of the DaySwitch is confirmed, negotiations are underway to identify the manufacturer that will bring the product to market.

“The DaySwitch is a simple, cost-effective, energy-saving device designed to take advantage of daylight automatically by reducing light energy usage in commercial buildings,” said Peter Morante, director of energy programs. “DaySwitch works with all conventional fluorescent ballasts and can be configured to work with more than one fixture.”

In operation, a tiny “commissioning device” sits on a workstation and senses the amount of daylight available. That information is transmitted through an infrared signal to a receiver located on a light fixture. The receiver then increases or decreases the output of the lamp to a predetermined level, so the available light remains constant. Bright sunshine or dark clouds will cause the lamp to automatically adjust its output.

“It is estimated that the DaySwitch will be able to reduce lighting energy consumption by 30 percent in buildings with significant daylight contribution through windows or skylights, allowing for a payback period of approximately three years,” Morante said.

Installation will take 15 minutes when the product finally makes it to market.

Shedding more than pounds

Does the term “load shedding” ring a bell? If not, it may soon, especially if you operate in an area where summer temperatures result in power shortages.

LRC’s Morante, et al., recently completed development of a load-shedding ballast that allows a building owner to reduce the power to all its fluorescent fixtures while maintaining available light at acceptable levels. He describes installation of a small receiver as “simple, on purpose.”

The load-shedding ballast is an instant-start ballast with bilevel dimming and a built-in powerline carrier signal receiver that produces an automated dimming response. Appearance, installation and wiring are identical to standard, instant-start ballasts, avoiding the need for expensive hardware necessary to dim fluorescent lamps.

During field testing at Consolidated Edison, coverage was extended to 20,000 square feet of space covered by 150 load-shedding ballasts. Control of the load-shedding ballasts was achieved with both external signaling sources and an in-house energy-management system. In all cases, each time the signal was transmitted, all 150 ballasts reduced power. The result: Energy consumption was reduced by 30 percent.

Morante stressed that, in operation, load shedding is not dimming, though the similarities are significant. -The new technology will be converted to a marketable commodity by Osram Sylvania and is expected to reach the marketplace in 2008.

Yet another horizon

Imagine the walls of your office, conference room or hospitality suite as a light fixture. That will be the environment that professor Jean Paul Freyssinier, also of LRC, envisions as being the result “of an infrastructure change in the way we build buildings.”

In his world, wall and ceiling tiles will be prewired with built-in LEDs in sizes and shapes specified by an occupant. A space’s framing will include electric ports that, when married to the tiles, produce a power source and instant illumination.

“In this type of arrangement, the color spectrum, level and intensity of illumination, and location and distribution of light, can be changed whenever necessary,” Freyssinier said.

LRC is expected to announce a demonstration model within 12 months.

A new vocabulary

One development on the LED front gaining momentum is the expanded usage of organic light emitting diodes (OLEDs).

“In the manufacturing process, the OLEDs are constructed of organic materials in the electroluminescent semiconductor layer,” McGowan said. “The advantage is that a process very much like printing can be used to fabricate OLEDs. One result is that a matrix of light-emitting dots, which can emit light of varying colors, can easily be fabricated, and a matrix of small, bright light sources can be used in a variety of luminous products,” ranging from small indicator lamps to surface light, the types of displays used in cell phones.

Interestingly, McGowan pointed out that the companies leading the LED/OLED revolution hail from the technology sector, rather than traditional light manufacturing companies. OLEDS, for example, are in common use in television monitors.

With all of these developments, it’s hard to deny Terry McGowan’s claims of a fourth age of lighting. Regardless of what we will call it, the world of lighting is changing, and it will be knowledgeable electrical contractors that will change it.

LAWRENCE is a freelance writer and photographer based in Bozeman, Mont. He can be reached at

About the Author

Ed Lawrence

Freelance Writer
Ed Lawrence is a freelance writer and photographer based in Bozeman, Mont. He can be reached at

Stay Informed Join our Newsletter

Having trouble finding time to sit down with the latest issue of
ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR? Don't worry, we'll come to you.