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DOE's SSL Technology R&D Workshop and Next Generation Lighting Industry Alliance SSL Technology Trends Workshop

Created 12/12/2017 by Chris Wolgamott
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Some notes from DOE on the R&D Workshop held in Portland Or, Nov 8 & 9 2017

More "Wild West" for SSL

A few weeks ago, lighting leaders from across the country assembled in Portland, OR, for two events: DOE's SSL Technology R&D Workshop, which was followed by the Next Generation Lighting Industry Alliance SSL Technology Trends Workshop. The atmosphere was electric, crackling with energy and ideas, as we took a deep dive into the R&D opportunities that will further extend the technology's cutting edge.


Barely a decade ago, folks were likening solid-state lighting to the Wild West. This was because of the "anything goes" mentality that typically prevails with new technology: no standard terminology or metrics exist to enable accurate product comparisons, and some product claims appear too good to be true. But while the development of needed standards and metrics has brought a measure of law and order to SSL, one of the recurring themes in Portland was that SSL now faces three new Wild West fronts --  in the burgeoning areas of horticultural lighting, human-physiological lighting, and connected lighting, all of which have been enabled or significantly boosted by the advent of SSL.



In those three key areas, we're now seeing the same pressing need for new metrics and test methods in order to objectively evaluate manufacturer claims and help specifiers make informed decisions about the value of new lighting products. Right now, as we heard from speakers in Portland, the use of SSL in these new applications is at such an early stage that we don't even know what we don't know. As the lighting industry shifts beyond a one-for-one replacement mentality, and use of lighting extends beyond simply lighting a space, it gets complicated really fast, and there's lots of uncharted ground.


On the fast-growing horticulture lighting front, Nick Klase of Fluence put it in football terms, saying that at present we're only at our own one-yard line in terms of our understanding of horticultural lighting science. He noted that there's huge interest and lots of questions, but that we can take almost everything we know about architectural lighting properties and metrics and "throw it out the door" for horticulture lighting. The rapid increase in indoor farming has multiple drivers, including a growing world population: the United Nations predicts that by the year 2050 we'll need to grow twice as much food as we grow today --  but that 70% of that additional growth will have to come from efficiency improvements in the agriculture industry. Nick observed that horticultural lighting has a huge impact on the electric grid, with indoor horticulture alone consuming 1% of the nation's electricity. He explained that whereas most horticultural lighting today is high-pressure sodium, LED not only has more potential for energy savings, but also offers greater controllability, which is important for increasing crop yields. According to Clay Elliott of Navigant, the energy footprint of horticultural lighting in the U.S. could grow threefold in the next decade, depending on how rapidly energy-efficient LEDs --  which currently account for just 4% of all horticultural lighting here -- are adopted in that sector.


On another front, Bob Davis of Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) emphasized that there's still much we don't know about the effects of light on human health, and in fact, DOE has recently awarded competitive funding for two research efforts that will study different aspects of this topic. Ron Gibbons of the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute outlined how he and his team will investigate the health impacts of outdoor lighting on drivers, pedestrians, and sleepers under carefully controlled conditions. He noted that although there are about 90 scientific papers on the topic, many of those laboratory studies are based on unrealistically high dosage levels, calling the results into question. For the second DOE-funded project, neuroscientist Gena Glickman of the University of California at San Diego discussed how she and her team are working to understand the effects of indoor lighting by studying ways that light impacts the health and performance of night-shift workers. She, too, emphasized the importance of realistic parameters, cautioning that a controlled lab environment doesn't necessarily translate to real life.


On the connected lighting front, a pre-workshop tour of the DOE Connected Lighting Test Bed (CLTB) provided attendees with a close-up view of test bed setups designed to examine the  energy reporting capabilities of Power over Ethernet and other connected lighting systems, and how application programming interfaces (APIs) are facilitating interoperability. One demonstration illustrated the variation in response time to a lighting-change request sent via API to six different connected lighting systems, and highlighted the fact that these first studies are not only generating valuable data to inform the efforts of standards committees, task groups, and consortia, but are also identifying issues that require further investigation. PNNL's Michael Poplawski elaborated on the CLTB studies and findings in his talk, detailing various recommendations for technology developers, API developers, and lighting manufacturers.


In contrast to the deep-dive data collection in the CLTB, Ruth Taylor of PNNL; Craig Bernecker of Parsons School of Design, The New School; and Chris Wolgamott of the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance offered a vivid look at lessons learned so far from a "living lab" set up at Parsons for the Next Generation Lighting Systems competition. Seven different connected lighting systems were installed in classrooms there and are being evaluated for performance and ease of installation from the perspectives of specifiers, contractors, and end users. While the seven systems were marketed as "easy to install and configure," the experiences of the electrical contractors and NGLS evaluators (all seasoned lighting pros) paint a very different picture and offer valuable feedback for manufacturers and specifiers.


As we explore these new frontiers and augment our understanding of new lighting science, a whole new set of questions and technology challenges emerges. At the end of the day, a panel of lighting experts reminded us why we should keep pushing for higher efficacy. Charlie Grist of Northwest Power & Conservation Council recounted that last year, lighting accounted for half of all electricity savings in his region. He noted that unlike many other sectors, lighting is on primarily during periods of peak demand for electricity, so improvements in lighting efficiency can play a significant role in demand reduction --  and such improvements are far less expensive than building new electricity-generating capacity. Thus, in reducing grid load at peak times, SSL makes the grid more reliable and less expensive to operate --  increasing the technology's value well beyond the cost savings achieved by its users.


Events like the workshop in Portland highlight the value of continued research, information sharing, and deep-dive discussions on lighting technology issues and challenges. To learn more about the Portland workshop or view presentations, visit the DOE website

Best regards, 

Jim Brodrick

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