Where Lighting Is Going: Roundtable on Lighting Trends

Enabled by rapid adoption of LED technology, the lighting industry continues to undergo historic change. Connectivity and networked control, the internet of things (IoT), lighting and health, restrictive energy codes, and rebates are all driving change. For electrical contractors that compete based on lighting expertise, this presents the challenge of reviewing one’s skill sets and acquiring the knowledge necessary to remain competitive.

In an informative roundtable, ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR talked to several lighting industry experts to find out what impact these trends are having and where they’re going.

These experts are Mark Lien, industry relations manager for the Illuminating Engineering Society; Mariana G. Figueiro, director of the Lighting Research Center and professor of architecture at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy, N.Y.; Eric Richman, senior research engineer, energy systems analysis for the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and chair of the ASHRAE/IES 90.1 Lighting Subcommittee; Gabe Arnold, program manager for the DesignLights Consortium (DLC); and Kevin Willmorth, principal of Lumenique industrial design firm.

Lighting is getting steadily more complicated with new technologies to learn, faster product cycles, lighting networking, color tuning, potential health impacts, energy codes and more. What effect is this advancement having on lighting practitioners? What skill sets are most lacking, how do lighting people get the education they need, and what value can they expect it to deliver?

Mark LienMark Lien: One aspect of an evolving industry is increased complexity. Specialists emerge, and expertise extends beyond the ability of an individual. We already have specialists in lighting controls, components and applications. Say hello to your new networking expert along with the light and health specialist you will need at least for consultation.

Often, manufacturers employ specialists to add value to their customers and to positively differentiate their company. Occasionally, this concept is executed well. Parking lot lighting may be laid out by a manufacturer, sales representative, electrician, [energy service company] or lighting designer. The complexity of the job may inform whether a lighting designer is employed. Similarly, lighting professionals may be educated well enough for basic customer/client requests and will need to know where to go when the questions require additional expertise. The first to tell a customer new information that helps them will grow trust for themselves and, by extension, their company. Conversely, to provide incorrect counsel reduces trust, so specialists will need to be recommended and engaged with.

A knowledge level beyond your average customer/client on all things lighting-related is ideal with specialists on staff or on call when necessary. Exponential growth curves for solid-state lighting and the IoT make continuous education critical for relevance. Larger organizations will need a director of education or chief information officer tasked with education and training.

Staff training is never done—we must be in continuous training. We are all trainees from now on as our lighting community accelerates into a fascinating future full of unexpected convergent consequences.

Considerable progress was made in 2017 on practical lighting and health applications. How would you characterize this progress, and what it means for lighting as a contributor to a healthy building environment?

Mariana FigueiroMariana Figueiro: Perhaps the most significant advance in lighting and health applications was not strictly in respect to specific technological advances or the development of new applications, but instead had to do with an enormous step forward in public awareness. The award of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine to circadian rhythms researchers has reached beyond researchers and lighting professionals to include the greater public who are ultimately the implementers and end-users of the technology.

That said, however, lighting technology and applications themselves have nonetheless made significant strides forward in 2017. Our research with office workers, for example, has shown that receiving levels of high circadian stimulus (CS) in the morning can improve sleep and reduce self-reports of depression among office workers. In 2017, for the first time, we demonstrated that a lighting intervention designed to provide high levels of CS can increase alertness similar to a cup of coffee.

This marriage of theoretical research and everyday applications—especially in view of advancements in the burgeoning field of IoT technology—holds great promise for realizing healthy lighting in the built environment for all users at any time of day or night. We are getting closer to the point where CS can be tailored to the individual to deliver an appropriate mobile lighting prescription that is not limited to a specific place. The use of desktop luminaires to deliver vertical illumination will, hopefully, become a more common practice in buildings.

We have learned a great deal over the past decade about the impact of light on health, and, if 2017 is any indication, advances in lighting for healthy buildings will only hasten their pace. In the coming year, it will be crucial to keep pushing the envelope, without waiting for standards bodies to establish revised metrics and guidelines, by applying our rapidly developing research to help people feel and live better right now.

The 2019 version of ASHRAE/IES 90.1 is expected to see a significant reduction in lighting power densities as LED lighting becomes increasingly cost-effective in all applications. Where do you see energy codes ultimately headed in terms of lighting? As lighting reaches a theoretical ceiling of efficiency, do you see energy-progressive jurisdictions implementing stretch codes and green building codes?

Eric RichmanEric Richman: Energy codes will continue to incorporate LED technology efficacy into the development of lighting power density (LPD) limits. At some point, reductions in LPD based on LED will level off with minor changes based on continued efficacy changes. Meanwhile, energy code development will continue to look for additional savings related to controls.

Basic lighting control functions are fairly well represented in current versions of codes, which will eventually be applicable to projects as states adopt the newer versions of codes. Going beyond basic control requirements, code development is likely to look at requirements for more advanced wireless control systems that have the potential for bigger savings based on integrated area control, but also include many non-energy benefits. However, the effectiveness of additional savings, compared to potentially higher cost of these systems, can depend on the application. I anticipate that energy codes will be cautious about specific requirements for advanced control systems but focus more on ensuring that these systems will not be restricted by any code requirements.

I also see codes looking at additional scope such as exterior lighting that may not be tied to a building. This might include external or shared parking, assembly, and storage areas and potentially some roadways.

Finally, discussions regarding the future of energy codes usually include the idea of performance-based codes. These performance codes seek to replace LPD limits with future energy use as a significant part of energy compliance which could provide more design flexibility. While this is potentially a more design-friendly approach, the basis for showing compliance using future energy use has not been developed, so LPD limits plus controls is likely to remain for a good while.

In 2017, utilities launched major rebates promoting networked lighting controls, based on the DLC’s specification and qualified products list. What impact will these have on adoption of networked controls in existing buildings, and what impact do you see this having on lighting control rebates?

Gabe ArnoldGabe Arnold: We’ll continue to see more utilities launching rebates for networked lighting controls in 2018. Utilities increasingly see this technology as critical to achieving their current and future energy-savings goals. Their involvement will drive progress and help spur adoption but is not all that is needed. Customer and partner education on how to sell, specify, install and use the technology will be essential. We expect utilities to take on a greater role in providing, sponsoring and promoting these education initiatives, as opportunities abound for this.

The DLC has developed a single-day curriculum on networked lighting controls targeted to ECs that will be offered by many utilities in 2018. The Lighting Controls Association offers a suite of free online courses on lighting controls as part of their Education Express. And, for those that want to go deeper, the National Advanced Lighting Controls Training Program provides a more in-depth, multiday training in a growing number of states and Canadian provinces on advanced controls. Utilities will be promoting, offering, or even requiring these trainings as part of their programs.

All of these education efforts are effectively priming the pump for greater adoption of networked lighting controls. Utilities would like to see lighting controls installed on every applicable lighting project through their programs. We expect that in the future, some utilities will require these controls to be installed to access any rebates. That means if you want a rebate for an LED fixture or lamp, it must be installed with networked controls. There is a lot of work to do to get to this point, but once we do get there, we expect the adoption of the technology will dramatically increase in both new and existing buildings and eventually will become standard practice as part of any lighting retrofit project.

There is greater interest in low-voltage power and communication delivery systems such as power over ethernet (PoE), the EMerge Alliance standard and proprietary low-voltage power systems. How will these solutions address the market, what is current adoption, and what do you see in the next 3–5 years?

Kevin WillmorthKevin Willmorth: The growth of interest in controls integration is certainly raising interest in low-voltage controls connectivity. Whether this leads to a complete overhaul of line-voltage to low-voltage infrastructure is a fair question. Pursuing a low-voltage distributed lighting system with smart controls integration in new construction is certainly a viable option and can produce reasonable cost savings. However, that advantage is lost in existing structures, where the cost of abandoning an existing infrastructure to install a redundant new low-voltage system is less realistic. Small buildings and tenant lease spaces are also less likely to realize a large capital savings from changing from a conventional line-voltage power with overlay of wireless or low-voltage controls to a complete low-voltage infrastructure.

For the next five years, there will continue to be a broad mix of line- and low-voltage systems utilized. While low-voltage controls will realize the greatest growth, the growth of PoE, EMerge, and other proprietary low-voltage backbone architectures will be application-dependent, with slower total growth. There are fundamental restrictions to distributed low-voltage power to large lighting systems. The 24V DC standard for EMerge ­Alliance-powered products requires voltage boost drivers to power the latest generation of high-power chip-on-board (COB) arrays operating at greater than 34V DC. The power limits involved in PoE create far more wired home-runs than a similar line-voltage system operating at 277V AC, while many local codes demand all wiring, line or low-voltage, be installed in conduit—negating some of the advantages of low-voltage systems.

Finally, the lack of universality between the various low-voltage systems on offer today leads to issues of future compatibility and integration of products from the largest number of manufacturers of lighting products that do not exist in line-voltage product offerings.

Ultimately, over the long term, the future of lighting connectivity, from power and voltage, to controls integration, is unknown. Certainly, low-voltage control and power as one entity, with digital instructions flowing over common wiring, is an improvement over existing dual-voltage approaches. In time, there will emerge a fully standardized and universal architecture that will facilitate application of this approach in new and existing structures with equal advantage, with fewer of the liabilities of current solutions available today.

About the Author

Craig DiLouie

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

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