Lighting for Tomorrow

It’s an exciting time to be in the lighting industry. Today, lighting systems can alter spaces without physically changing them, revitalize urban areas, facilitate interaction and community, communicate information, make spaces more interactive, and affect well being. As technology capabilities increase and costs decline, a dramatic range of possibilities offer the opportunity to transform how people interact with community, space and light. Five specific lighting trends may play a significant role in the future.

No. 1: Sustainability will be the major driver 
of technological change in lighting

These days, it’s difficult to have a conversation about lighting without energy efficiency being a primary consideration. Commercial building energy codes are highly restrictive, favoring the most efficient options. Meanwhile, federal product regulations are steadily removing the least-efficient, lowest cost options from the market. This disruption, coupled with rising energy costs, will continue to create favorable conditions for retrofits and upgrades in existing buildings. In both new and existing construction, the most-efficient lighting technology, such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs) and advanced lighting controls, will be favored. Design approaches and vertical lighting solutions and packages will develop around specific applications, creating new opportunities and requiring more sophisticated lighting design capabilities.

No. 2: Solid-state lighting will dominate

Just a few years ago, the LED was everybody’s idea of the lighting of the future. In some respects, that future has already arrived, and imagining all general lighting gradually converting to LEDs is not unrealistic.

The bottom line is that LEDs are continually improving in efficacy, longevity and cost, with plenty of room to grow. Meanwhile, a majority of conventional lighting technologies are already declining.

The combination of performance and cost is positioning LED in the sweet spot for upgrade projects in some applications. The list of applications is expected to expand, and we may see a tipping point within the next few years, presenting an exciting opportunity to replace conventional lighting with LEDs across the vast spectrum of facilities.

The LED is not the only game in town, but it will likely become the new standard. Calculating market share based on lumen-hour sales, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) predicted LEDs will achieve a share of 10 percent by 2015, 36 percent by 2020, 59 percent by 2025 and 74 percent by 2030. By then, LED general lighting will have achieved efficacies as high as 200 lumens per watt, according to the DOE.

However, the organic LED (OLED) is another technology to watch. It’s about seven years behind LEDs and must achieve significant improvements in performance and cost to find applications where it will present superior value. The technology offers a great deal of potential as a complementary source to LEDs, and it is particularly suited to area lighting and new applications defined by unique form factors.

Other solid-state lighting technologies may emerge and find their application. For example, plasma has carved out a share in high-bay lighting. However, defeating the LED as a general light source on the basis of efficiency and service life alone will be difficult.

What if the source consumed no energy and never failed? Improvements in glazing and daylight delivery systems, backed by revelations connecting light and health, may drive daylight to the fore as a primary light source. Biology is another avenue that could be more deeply explored, including light-emitting microbes or genetically modified plants.

In short, LEDs may end up becoming the be-all of lighting but, perhaps, not the end-all.

No. 3: Longer life cycles will disrupt the industry

The DOE predicts the average life of LED indoor luminaires will increase 73,000-plus hours by 2020 and outdoor luminaires will increase 68,000 hours by 2015. It remains unclear whether rated life, which is based on lumen maintenance, will be achieved for many products due to color shift and driver failure, which may happen earlier than rated life. It’s safe to assume that, overall, lighting product useful life will increase as LED technology becomes ubiquitous. This development will be disruptive to the lighting industry in several ways.

First is confusion among owners about when to replace their lighting, as light output will simply fade. How will they know when an installed product is no longer useful? In applications where light output—or brightness, in the case of exit signs—is critical, owners will need to schedule some form of testing to ensure lighting needs are continuing to be met. Therefore, maintenance may involve spot-checking light levels and observing color shift, though luminaire cleaning will be just as important as it is now. Alternatively, products may evolve to include some type of indicator that signals actual or estimated failure. Some products already offer this feature.

[SB]The next question is what the owner will actually be replacing. While some LED luminaires are field-serviceable, allowing ongoing service and upgrades, a majority of them are not. When the light source (or any other component, such as the driver) fails, the luminaire fails. This is a cost that may surprise some owners in the future. Many will be hesitant to dispose of a functional lamp or luminaire.

Long life will also affect manufacturers and distributors. Navigant Consulting and other projections estimate lighting industry revenues will begin to decline starting around 2017. As maintenance shifts from ongoing lamp replacement to replacing luminaires every 10–20-plus years, the maintenance, repair and overhaul business is also expected to decline.

No. 4: Intelligence will be commonplace, 
creating more responsive lighting

Meet the other lighting revolution—digital lighting control. As digital devices, LEDs are easier to control than conventional sources, and dimming capability is generally available at a lower cost than with fluorescent. The primary driver for LED dimming may not ultimately be the incremental energy savings offered, but the ability to affect constant light and color output and extend product life.

Pairing LED lighting with digital control is an ideal combination, infusing intelligence into the luminaire. Luminaires can be programmed to provide constant light and color output over their rated life, extending service life and energy savings, while ensuring consistent color quality. They will be able to recognize individual users and provide custom lighting conditions. The ability to control color temperature and intensity is only now being explored; however, it offers significant potential to transform spaces and make them more versatile and personal.

Another emerging control capability that may become common is the ability for lighting to interact with individual users through a range of inputs, including touch, mobile devices, cameras, sound and proximity sensors. As these capabilities become more economical, designer thinking will transcend the notion of lighting control as saving energy in the office and supporting visual needs in the conference room. Imagine illuminated environments that are flexible and responsive to occupants.

Another control capability being pioneered today is using LED lighting for communication. Digital lighting control enables two-way communication, acting on command inputs from multiple devices while providing feedback on status. This can be used for energy management, maintenance, performance optimization and security across spaces, buildings, campuses and entire cities. LED technology offers the ability to embed data directly into the light beam, allowing spaces to talk to users through messages sent to their mobile phones. Korean supermarket chain Emart is already using this capability to guide shoppers around their stores and alert them to discounts. 

Additional capabilities involve integration of equipment into luminaires that can respond to and communicate sound, monitor carbon dioxide levels and enact security, resulting in a layer of infrastructure that is highly responsive to individual and public needs. As a result, LED lighting may become part of the infrastructure for the Internet of Things, and LED retrofits may serve as an important vector for introducing this infrastructure into existing buildings.

The integration of muscular control capabilities in everyday lighting systems will necessitate the delivery of design and construction services that are more sophisticated and closely related across the supply chain. Advancing capabilities will be aligned with customer needs, though customers may not understand their opportunities. The need to educate the end-user about lighting, already vital, will increase in importance.

No. 5: Health outcomes may enter the 
value proposition of lighting designs

Light produces physiological, as well as psychological, responses in humans. Research into these links is providing valuable information that may affect future best practices and result in lighting systems tailored to support performance and human health.

A range of issues are involved, including the distinctive needs of the aging eye, circadian health, the positive effects of daylight, and color. Lighting conditions could be tailored in a workspace to the age of the user. Color and intensity could be adjusted in a classroom to encourage alertness or calm. Office lighting could be programmed to imitate the qualities of daylight across its daytime cycle.

While it’s difficult to speculate what role health will play in lighting of the future, the important thing is our understanding of light and health is increasing along with our capabilities to implement health-supportive lighting solutions. Connecting these dots to implement best practices will be challenging because many factors are involved—e.g., light level, spectrum, duration of exposure, proper light/dark patterns—and people should be treated as individuals, not populations.

How soon is the future?

Once a staid industry, the pace of change in lighting is accelerating, requiring more adaptation. As new players enter, it brings a sense of speed and urgency. Still, change takes longer in lighting than many other industries. The once-envisioned future is already upon us. The trends are already in place, their trajectories established. How far they go, and how fast, remains to be determined, as does who will win and lose from this change. Industry players that keep pace, and service providers that keep abreast of new developments, will be most likely to succeed as the speed of light accelerates.

About the Author

Craig DiLouie

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

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