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The lighting renaissance: seven things to know

The lighting industry is in the middle of a renaissance thanks to innovations in solid-state luminaires and digital lighting control systems.

“Every aspect of how we deal with light in the past few decades has changed,” said Ken Walma, vice president and general manager of ambient and controls solutions for Eaton’s lighting division. “As we continue to move forward, it’s important for industry professionals and their customers to understand not only how new systems operate, but also how they can be made to comply with existing and developing regulations in the lighting industry.

“This is the beginning of a sea change,” he said. “We’re shifting from the traditional sources of the past 100 years to LEDs, and that’s the main driver. LEDs are transforming the lighting industry into a digitized business.”

Here are seven things to know for anyone working in the lighting industry today.

  1. As components, LEDs are fantastically efficient ways to produce light. Not only electrically as they are more efficient sources in their ability to convert watts to lumens, but as a directional source, the light can be directed exactly where it’s needed. In contrast, earlier lamps (or light bulbs) sent light in all directions. Lenses and housings used to reflect and direct the light reduced the efficiency of the total system.
  2. Integrated sensor technology is on the rise. Occupancy and daylight sensors were once sold separately from light fixtures, and installation and repairs required a local contractor. Thanks to easy-to-control LED technology, the sensor can be integrated into the luminaire leveraging the same electronics, which reduces cost and complexity.
  3. Addressable lighting gives every LED fixture in a building its own digital address.These advanced lighting control systems conserve energy, reduce operating cost and improve lighting quality by enabling the utmost flexibility of the system. Addressable systems were around in the fluorescent era, but the cost premium meant only a small segment of the market adopted them. LED technology again lowers the cost, and we will see widespread adoption.
  4. It’s not just about lighting a space anymore. In fact, the use of lighting for digital data transmission is already part of the conversation. Light is inherently a communication system. Light can be modulated, or turned on and off, at a rate imperceptible to the human eye while being read by a sensor or camera. In effect, a light fixture can serve as a communication hub to your mobile device. The uses for this are endless, but a simple comparison of the benefit of this can likely be found in your car. If you have ever associated your Bluetooth phone to your car or an earpiece, you know the steps. With light technology, you could simply hold your phone under a dome light, and that would confirm it is actually you sitting in the car.
  5. As the frequency of retrofit and replacement lighting (driven by LED conversion) balloons over the next few years, wireless lighting control technology will emerge from the fringes and become mainstream. Wireless control systems reduce installation complexity but increase overall system complexity. As the world is converting its light fixtures to LED, the pure LED retrofit opportunities will be far greater and demand the simplified installation benefits of wireless.
  6. In this new world of smart systems with built-in communication technologies, communication and performance standards will have a place, though yet undefined. Engineers and other lighting professionals must be willing to do their due diligence on various manufacturers’ proprietary systems until these standards emerge.
  7. As lighting systems become more complex, codes will evolve as well. California’s Title 24 is a great example of an energy code truly driving the advancement of LED lighting and control systems. As an example, Title 24 requires dimming of LED light fixtures, daylighting control for fixtures near windows, and automated time or sensor-based technologies. Keep in mind that California is a code compliance trendsetter, and what The Golden State adopts is often replicated elsewhere across the U.S. and Canada.

More transformation is in store, and no one’s looking back. “This isn’t the only industry to go through digitization,” Walma said. “Digital music emerged less than 20 years ago, and we all know what happened next.”