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So What Does The Future Of Lighting Look Like?
Last week, I was asked to participate in DLFNY’s Taking Sides debate night at FIT. I sat on a panel being asked to debate several lighting topics. Reading the topic list you might be thinking that this was a series of discreet discussions.
* Resolved: High R9 (red) values are absolutely necessary for optimum lighting results.
* Resolved: Retrofit lamps are the future of LED lighting.
* Resolved: Lighting manufacturers should offer lighting design services.
* Resolved: The integration of lighting and IoT signals the end of the traditional lighting business as we know it.
It was on that last question that the evening turned existential. Debaters Chis Brown of Weidenbach Brown and Mark Roush of Experience Light LLC took up the arguments for and against the future of the lighting industry. Chris took the position that much of the lighting industry, specifically the distribution channel was “already out of business.” Mark argued that while large players like Apple and Google might want to dabble in lighting, they don’t really know what great lighting design really is, and so the industry will endure.
Once debates shift from isolated topics to the existence of our entire industry, the tone changes. After Chris and Mark had their debate, the entire panel was asked to come back up on stage. The conversation shifted away from our discreet topics and toward the future of the industry.
So what is that future? Here’s my humble take:
It’s not a novel observation to say the lighting industry is in a state of massive change. This change is being brought about by two major technological shifts – the rise of LED and the rise of digital controls. These two developments are both discreet and symbiotic. As LED has risen to become the dominant lighting source of our time, we have to confront the fact that there will not be a steady income stream of lamps, transformers and ballasts. Installations will last much long and maintain their quality as LED becomes the dominant light source. It’s important to remember that for contractors, electricians and distributors the day-in and day-out business of ballast and lamps swaps is not a trivial thing. It’s an important part of their business and it will, over the coming decade fade away.
Depending on what estimate you believe, there are a billion E26 sockets in service across the country. Replacing those sources alone (to say nothing of the millions of troffers, strips, downlights, and exterior fixtures) will be the mission of the lighting industry writ large for the next decade or so. Beyond one-for-one swaps of traditional product for LED product, how can our industry embrace the future?
We are living through an unprecedented shift in the connectivity of our devices. The connectivity that people enjoy across space and time because of the internet is now going to extend to our devices. We are used to talking about lighting in the context of controls, maybe even centralized controls systems like BACnet. We need to start thinking about connectivity as automatic lighting behaviors and part of the larger built environment.
Imagine a team of developers who work together in a small silicon alley office. Now imagine that the office has each of their phones registered and knows not only who has meetings scheduled, but who is on the train already on their way to the office. Imagine the HVAC systems, shades, lighting and even the music playing in the speakers is tuned to the office’s schedule. It goes beyond sensors and into data integration and manipulation, all in an effort to optimize the energy use, productivity and comfort of the office space. Take that relatively simple example and move the thinking to a hospital setting, the complications multiply a thousand fold. The contractors and distributors who will remain competitive in the age of digital light will understand these systems and be able to service them, both through alliances and partnerships and on their own.
Service in the LED Age
Fifty thousand hours is a long time. It’s nearly six years. If an LED troffer is rated for 50,000 hours and is on 12 hours per day it will last about eleven and a half years. I don’t know about you, but I plan on being around 11 years from now, I hope you do too. The point is that while LED might last much much longer than halogen, metal halide or fluorescent sources, they don’t last forever. Drivers will start failing long before LED boards do, we’re going to need smart suppliers and contractors who know how to service LED gear quickly and easily for customers.
Advocate for a Beautiful, Sustainable Future
Perhaps the most important thing we can do as an industry to advocate for beautiful lighting in as many spaces as possible. If I have a fear for the future of lighting, it’s not that we won’t have a thriving lighting industry, it’s that we will forget to advocate for beautiful lighting in our spaces. When the key feature sets become connectivity and longevity, instead of the best delivered light, we get closer to an age where the physical space matters less and less. That is what we must fight. Every time we have the opportunity to create an amazing space, we must. We must make sure that the value of great lighting and great lighting tools is understood by the larger culture and advocated for. That’s the surest way to make sure our industry thrives through the 21st century.