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The Future of Lighting

Created 6/30/2015 by Rob Penney
Updated 7/9/2015 by Eric Miller
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I just participated in a BPA E3T showcase webinar, Commercial Lighting: A Ten-Year Outlook, presented by Levin Nock from BPA. It reflects his work with John Wilson and the NEEA-led group developing a commercial and industrial lighting regional strategy this summer. I found it exciting and thought-provoking.

Levin thinks lighting development will follow that of phones. As a digitally networked programmable device, a smart phone provides services today that 20 years ago could only have been provided by equipment that would’ve filled a small truck. Continuing the transition from incandescent lamps to LEDs is certainly a step forward, but as light fixtures become digitally networked devices, they have the potential to integrate features that enhance the user experience and drive retrofits. Networks of light fixtures are useful for this because they are evenly distributed across spaces occupied by people. Some such features are already in commercially available products, but most are not easy to use and need to become more “plug-and-play.”

As an outdoor example, smart street lights may indicate available parking spaces nearby, earthquakes, gunshots, air pollution, and wire theft. They could also broadcast ads and announcements on flat-screen TVs and concealed speakers, and provide public Wi-Fi; see graphic courtesy of BPA.


As an indoor example, the ceiling fixtures at a grocery store may provide highly accurate GPS and a map to find the Dave’s Killer Bread you want. They may also provide Wi-Fi and make announcements. In an office, smart lighting could change to match your activity (such as standing at white board versus sitting at PC).

Lighting systems may even charge your cell phone wirelessly. As wireless bandwidth gets more crowded, the lights will provide a Li-Fi network that adds bandwidth. With power-over-Ethernet, smart fixtures will require only one cable for both power and controls, with no conduit needed.

As with many equipment developments, there may be tradeoffs. The fixtures will be more expensive. Installing them may require more skill, and consumers may replace them more frequently, like cell phones. However, the cost of a smart fixture will likely be less than assembling all these features in separate hardware. It remains to be seen how the additional energy use of the new features will compare with reductions in lighting energy from higher efficacy and better controls, and to see how much people really want street lights to display ads and light fixtures to help them find the bread.

Another key point Levin made was that current utility incentives could be encouraging people to buy LEDs when they’re already eager to do so (like paying people to eat ice cream)and encouraging purchases of older lighting technologies (e.g. fluorescents) that have pretty much ceased to develop and will likely be replaced with LEDs. It might be time to retire – or at least revise – these incentives. Utility programs could also specify smart fixtures with performance monitoring (to validate savings and trigger a delayed part of the incentive), and open standards for multi-vendor interoperability and economy of scale in production.

But first standards need to be developed and adopted, a complex process led by manufacturer consortiums that will likely take two or three years. Ideally, this process will address cyber security and synergize with communication standards for other energy systems. The future is coming; stay tuned!

For assessment of a wide variety of emerging efficiency lighting other technologies, check out BPA’s

E3TNW database at www.E3TNW.org.

Rob Penney

WSU Energy Program

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Comments (1)
Eric Miller on 07/09/15 on 02:19 PM (Pacific Time)

Thanks Rob - Very informative (and interesting to boot).

This resource is Public

Sector: Commercial
Function: Implementation, Emerging Technology