Ear to the Ground: ECs Offer Us Their Feedback on Lighting

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Electrical contractors consider themselves highly influential in lighting-equipment selection for both new construction and retrofit projects. That’s one key finding from the 2019 CII Lighting Trends Survey, which ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR conducted using the 1,000 members on its Subscriber Research Panel.

The survey was designed to capture ECs’ attitudes about the lighting market and trends such as networked lighting controls, wireless control, the internet of things (IoT), and color-tunable LED lighting. The 100-plus respondents were filtered to 84 to concentrate on contractors working with commercial, industrial and institutional (CII) lighting. This resulted in a 90 percent confidence with a 9 percent margin of error. While suggestive of attitudes within the overall industry, the results are projectable to the research panel.

Key findings

  • A majority of respondents said their 2018 lighting revenues from CII new construction/major renovation projects (51 percent) and retrofit projects (54 percent) increased in 2018.
  • A majority of respondents reported they expect their lighting revenues from CII new construction/major renovation projects (60 percent) and retrofit projects (65 percent) to increase in 2019.
  • The average respondent is fairly familiar with major lighting trends. The greatest familiarity is with networked lighting controls and wireless lighting controls. Respondents are least familiar with the IoT, which is not surprising as it is new and evolving.
  • A majority of respondents discussed lighting quality (88 percent), color-tunable LED lighting (58 percent), and energy information (51 percent) as lighting product features with customers in 2018. Customers were most interested in lighting quality, followed by energy information and automatic maintenance alerts.
  • Seventy-nine percent of the lighting installed by the average respondent in CII new construction/major renovation projects in 2018 was LED-based.
  • The average respondent was called back to the job site to address operating issues in 19–22 percent of their 2018 projects involving lamps, light fixtures, lighting controls and networked controls.
  • The average respondent has a significant comfort level with novel technologies such as networked lighting controls (51 percent being “very comfortable”) and wireless controls (53 percent). They are least comfortable with the IoT (33 percent).

Lighting and the EC

The average respondent’s CII lighting revenues in 2018 was divided 39 percent new construction/renovations, 34 percent retrofits in existing buildings, 26 percent maintenance/service/repair, and 2 percent “other” (see Figure 1).

Figure 1

For the average respondent, the most popular CII lighting-related services include installation (96 percent), purchasing lighting (86 percent), maintenance/service/repair (86 percent), and recommending lighting (81 percent). More than one-half (55 percent) specify lighting, and more than one-third (37 percent) commission lighting controls (see Figure 2).

Figure 2

Contractor influence

Respondents were asked to rate themselves and other potential project participants on their relative influence in ultimately deciding what lighting equipment is installed in the average CII new construction/major renovation project. This was on a 1–5 scale, with 1 being “not influential,” and 5 being “very influential” (see Figure 3).

Figure 3

On average, respondents perceive themselves as highly influential (3.7), on par with architects (3.8) and engineers (3.7). The only participants that average respondent consider significantly more influential is, not surprisingly, a lighting designer/specialist if attached to the project (4.1) and the owner (4.0).

For average lighting retrofit projects, the average respondent perceives themselves as the most influential project participant (4.1), on par with the owner (4.0), and followed by an energy or lighting consultant if attached to the project (3.5). The other participants were rated as only “somewhat influential.”

Market outlook

A majority of respondents reported 2018 was a good year for lighting revenue and expect 2019 to be another good year.

Slightly more than one-half (51 percent) said their 2018 lighting revenues from CII new construction/major renovation projects increased in 2018, with 16 percent reporting it increased “a lot” and 38 percent reporting it increased “a little.” Similarly, 16 percent said their CII lighting retrofit revenues increased a lot, and 38 percent said they increased a little. In maintenance/service/repair, 57 percent said their revenues remained neutral, with 4 percent reporting it increased a lot and 36 percent reporting it increased a little.

A majority of respondents (60 percent) expect their lighting revenues from CII new construction/major renovation projects to increase in 2019, with 12 percent expecting a large increase and 48 percent a small increase (see Figure 4).

Figure 4

Similarly, 14 percent said they expect their revenues from CII lighting retrofit projects to increase a lot in 2019 and 51 percent to increase a little.

Slightly more than one-half (51 percent) reported they expect their maintenance/service/repair revenues to stay the same, with 46 percent predicting they will increase a lot (4 percent) or a little (42 percent).

Lighting trends

Respondents were presented a list of trends and asked their level of awareness about each, from not being aware of the trend to having worked on that type of project.

Networked lighting control is the most familiar trend, with about two-thirds (65 percent) of respondents being either “familiar” with it (35 percent) or having worked on a project involving it (30 percent). Wireless lighting control is the next most familiar trend, with 62 percent being familiar or having worked with it (see Figure 5).

Figure 5

The trends with the lowest amount of awareness are the IoT (56 percent of respondents were only “somewhat aware” or “not aware” of the trend) and device-based apps used to commission lighting controls (54 percent being somewhat or not aware).

Respondents were then asked whether they had discussed a series of trend-related topics with their customers in 2018, including lighting quality (visual comfort, lighting patterns, etc.), color-tuning (lights change color or shade of white light), energy information (through onboard measuring), maintenance alerts (through onboard monitoring), and data fed to other software/systems (IoT).

Of these, a majority discussed lighting quality (88 percent), color tuning (58 percent), and energy information (51 percent) with their customers (see Figure 6).

Figure 6

Respondents that discussed these topics with their customers were then asked to indicate level of customer interest. Customers were most interested in lighting quality (63 percent being “very interested”), followed by energy information and maintenance alerts (see Figure 7).

Figure 7

However, all topics received a significant level of interest (76–98 percent being at least “somewhat interested”).

Lighting technology

The average respondent reported that 79 percent of the lighting installed in CII new construction/major renovation projects in 2018 was LED-based. This is a sea change in lighting compared to 10 years ago. LED lighting, meanwhile, makes it more convenient to build in significant value-added features such as color tuning and networked controls.

Lighting installations are producing a significant number of callbacks for respondents, however, with the average respondent citing they were called back to the job site in 19–22 percent of their 2018 CII projects involving installation of lamps, light fixtures, lighting controls and networked lighting controls. Remarkably, the callback rate for lamps and light fixtures is similar to that of controls, and the rate for networked lighting controls—which are ostensibly more complicated—is similar to other technologies.

Respondents were asked how comfortable they are with more novel LED lighting technologies including networked lighting controls, color-tunable lights, wireless controls, control commissioning apps, and the IoT. The average respondent displays a high confidence rate with wireless lighting controls (53 percent “very comfortable”) and networked lighting controls (51 percent), followed by apps (46 percent) and color-tunable lighting (43 percent). They are least comfortable with the IoT (33 percent), which is not surprising as it is a nascent trend that is still evolving (see Figure 8).

Figure 8

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