Disruption Is the Norm: 2019 Roundtable on Lighting Trends

LED technology, connectivity, intelligence and the internet of things continue to drive change and product development in the historically staid lighting industry, where disruption has become the norm. For electrical contractors providing services on a foundation of lighting expertise, education is key to remaining competitive.

For this roundtable, ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR talked to six leading manufacturers and experts to measure the pulse of lighting technological change and what this change has in store for electrical contractors.

The experts are Tom Benton, vice president of product management, Hubbell Lighting; Mike Thornton, chief marketing officer, Focal Point; Omar Rivera, head of luminaires in the United States and Canada, LEDVANCE; Matt Ochs, director of product management, Lutron Electronics Co. Inc.; Mark Lien, industry relations manager, the Illuminating Engineering Society; and Mariana G. Figueiro, director, Lighting Research Center (LRC) and professor of architecture at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

What are the top trends in nonresidential lighting, and how will they shape the future?

Tom Benton HeadshotTom Benton: Energy code compliance, energy costs, financial incentives and the adoption of new technologies continue to be the primary drivers of the lighting market today. Additionally, we’re beginning to see real demand for connected lighting that can scale from the room to the building to the campus and beyond.

We are focused on improving the form, performance, functionality and capability of our luminaires to ensure they meet the demands of the marketplace. Consider how nearly 75 percent of architects and 67 percent of building owners say health considerations now play a role in how their buildings are designed, indicating healthy environments have become an important tool in marketing to occupants of commercial spaces. Advances in lighting technology are having an impact on this trend. We have products that feature the option of changing the color temperature within a luminaire to create various environments within a space, enabling occupants to adapt their visual environment to suit the task at hand. The byproduct of this functionality for building owners and operators is increased occupant satisfaction and productivity.

Connected lighting opens the door for serious building management system advantages. Our contractor customers are taking advantage of products that deliver a seamless lighting control solution for building owners that want to offer more automated interaction with both the occupant and the environment. These solutions feature the capability of scaling from stand-alone fixture and room control applications to networked enterprise deployments using wired, wireless and hybrid connectivity with native BACnet support.

This is just one example of a solution that can run predictive analytics to adjust its own settings and schedule based on data collected over time, which would provide incremental savings over a much longer time. Then, when considering additional internet of things (IoT) aspects, even more exciting possibilities emerge that could have major operational savings benefits. Now that lighting systems have intelligence and a network at hundreds or even thousands of points throughout a building, the lighting system can provide an IoT infrastructure for a variety of applications. As intelligent products continue to transform the lighting industry, contractors that take the time to develop their expertise in networked lighting systems like these will be well positioned to take advantage of this growing market.

The lighting industry is good at many things, but it has often criticized itself for not effectively communicating the value of quality lighting. What is the value and associated business case, and why should electrical contractors make it a priority in their projects?

Mike Thornton HeadshotMike Thornton: Quality lighting is the result of a holistic process that includes lighting design and the selection of quality luminaires, light sources and optical delivery systems, and their installation and integration with controls.

While the definition of quality lighting varies based on the application, some elements are universally important: light output, brightness control and color spectrum. Quality lighting enhances a space and supports the needs of its users while conforming to applicable codes and standards.

LED technology has provided the opportunity to address light quality at various price points, and U.S. manufacturers offer a wide range of options to contractors. They stand behind their products, offering customer and field support and solid warranties. Their products represent superior alternatives to low-cost, low-quality products and support employment and our domestic economy.

If we define quality lighting as lighting that is preferred by humans, recent independent studies conclude that preference can be defined as a combination of fidelity and red saturation. Light sources with that slight red oversaturation are available in the market defined as follows: IES Rf = 91, IES Rg = 107, Hue Bin 1 = +4%, and Hue Bin 16 = +7%. They contribute to creating environments where humans feel more comfortable and will, as a result, be more productive.

Low-quality lighting products are cheap but offer potentially poor, short-lived performance. How should ECs vet products to ensure their customers get the best lighting?

Omar Rivera HeadshotOmar Rivera: Understand who the LED chip manufacturer is when evaluating products. Is it a known brand? Is it from someone you are not familiar with? Stick with a brand that is established in the marketplace.

When evaluating fixtures, stainless- steel brackets and hanging devices are best. Lesser quality materials can rust and break, which can lead to fixtures falling to the ground.

The DesignLights Consortium (DLC) is a nonprofit organization whose mission is “to drive efficient lighting by defining quality, facilitating thought leadership, and delivering tools and resources to the lighting market through open dialogue and collaboration.” Review its website as a resource for product recommendations.

Make sure to buy lighting products that are manufactured to operate in the temperature range of the application, both on the high and low end. If the temperature ranges are outside the product’s specs, this could impact overall product performance and life.

Remind customers you get what you pay for. Low-cost but low-quality lighting product is more likely to lead to problems down the road and additional costs and headaches. As the expression goes, “If a job’s worth doing, it’s worth doing well.”

Lighting products with the highest lumens per watt will run cooler, use less energy and last longer. This is a key way to ensure customers are the most satisfied with their lighting.

Keep in mind installation when quoting a customer. Inexpensive products may offer savings in regard to the actual product but may be harder to install, which increases labor time. A customer expecting a low bill due to a cheap product will not be happy with sticker shock when they get the final bill.

Connected lighting is considered the ultimate in lighting control and an entry point to the IoT. What is the present and future of connected lighting?

Matt Ochs HeadshotMatt Ochs: By many estimates, the U.S. smart lighting market will exceed $20 billion within the next five years, with a global forecast of $36 billion—tremendous opportunities created by new technology.

While in many ways the IoT hasn’t lived up to its initial hype and expectations, connected lighting technology continues to enjoy growing adoption in all building sectors. To be sure, building owners and consumers are being cautious with their investments, looking for use cases and technologies that truly add value—such as saving energy, simplifying lives and improving productivity—and they are finding that smart lighting offers solutions to these issues.

In the commercial arena, connected lighting not only plays a pivotal role in creating the right environment but also serves as the foundation for a data-driven, digital solution in an operationally efficient building. Connected fixtures with integral sensors, installed in both interior and exterior spaces across a building or campus, can integrate with HVAC, security, shading, smart receptacles and more to provide metrics and software tools essential to delivering a more comfortable, productive, secure environment. Moreover, a smart lighting and control system with simple-to-use software can provide a single gateway that simplifies maintenance and facility management, saving time and money.

Lighting is becoming steadily more complex. What skill sets do ECs need to successfully recommend, install and commission leading-edge lighting systems today and in the future?

Mark Lien HeadshotMark Lien: Lighting trends reveal skill sets necessary for electrical contractors to stay relevant. The breadth of knowledge needed is expanding. Specialization or partnering with others that have extended specialty skills is critical to addressing this shift.

Renewable energy is increasingly being required in energy codes. If that skill is not in-house, then partnering with local solar and wind installers extends value and ideally promotes shared customers. Specialists in building management systems are in demand now as “smart lighting” becomes [expected] and the integration of all devices responding to voice or other simplified controls is demanded. This involves an understanding of products available and various protocols like Bluetooth, ZigBee, 5G, Wi-Fi and more. Knowing how to overcome compatibility conflicts and integrate disparate devices comes easier after culturing strong trusting relationships with suppliers and manufacturers. In the future, Li-Fi, autonomous vehicle charging, nanotechnology, sensors in digital platforms that can include lighting, 3-D printing of lighting components, quantum computing, and artificial intelligence will further expand the breadth of what electrical contractors will need to be successful.

Evidence continues to build that lighting can play a part in building environments supportive of human circadian health. What do we know that’s actionable today, and what do you see as the future of circadian-friendly lighting products and best practices in nonresidential buildings?

Mariana Figueiro HeadshotMariana Figueiro: Much has been learned over the past decade about the impact of light on human health, especially in regard to sleep, mood and alertness. In a series of studies funded by the U.S. General Services Administration, LRC scientists found that office workers receiving high circadian stimulus (CS) during the entire workday (8 a.m.–5 p.m.) experienced better sleep and felt less depressed compared to those receiving low CS. They also reported feeling significantly more energetic and alert. The benefits are not limited to offices but are also applicable to schools, hospitals and long-term care facilities.

Changes in CS values can be achieved by simply increasing or decreasing the system’s light output while maintaining the same correlated color temperature or by changing the light distribution so that more light is delivered at the vertical plane. Unfortunately, due to restrictive energy codes, light levels are often too low for activating the circadian system. Light levels are just as or perhaps more important than spectrum alone, yet tuning the spectrum to the sensitivity of the circadian system can help offset some of the energy costs. If you have design restrictions such as energy codes or fixed horizontal light levels, choose a light source that will emit more short-wavelength light to account for those restrictions or pick a luminaire distribution that provides a higher horizontal-to-vertical ratio.

Rather than wait until standard-setting bodies agree on new metrics or guidelines, lighting professionals can begin to apply current research knowledge to help people live better right now.

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