Experts debate key issues that lighting professionals face relative to LEDs and SSL (MAGAZINE)

June 4, 2019
Strategies in Light panelists reveal just how complex SSL issues such as connected lighting, color tuning, metrics, and controls are even for experts with a game-show format adding entertainment value. MAURY WRIGHT reports.

A Friday, Mar. 1 Strategies in Light panel called Lovers of Light was certainly the most entertaining session at the conference and perhaps the most revealing as well. Experts with varying backgrounds discussed some of the most vexing issues relative to the future of LED-based lighting. The debates ranged from component and system efficacy to whether the Internet of Things (IoT) is even a good idea. Insight about the progression of the solid-state lighting (SSL) sector was plentiful, although the discussion regularly aligned with the title of the session, light quality being center stage. Here we will cover some of the highlights.

We covered a number of the Strategies in Light speakers in a broader article that ran in our April/May issue. We chose to also cover the Lovers of Light panel because of the breadth of the topics discussed, the merits of the panelists, and the fact that the format was just downright entertaining. Ron Steen, vice president of business development of Xicato, hosted the panel that was presented in a spoof of a TV game show. The panelists were James Benya, principal at the Benya Burnett Consultancy; Naomi Miller, senior lighting engineer at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL); Clifton Stanley Lemon, CEO of Clifton Lemon Associates; Brent York, CEO of LensVector; Adam Carangi, vice president of design and specification at Feng Shui Lighting; and Carla Bukalski, specification regional sales manager at Eaton. In addition to the affiliations listed above, members of the panel have worked on the Strategies in Light advisory board and presented numerous times at the conference in prior years, and all are extremely active in the SSL sector.

The premise of the panel was that Steen would present topics of discussion and the spin of a wheel would select panelists at random to argue each side of the issue at hand. In reality, there may have been some pre-planning of panelist to topic. But Steen did suggest that the panelists could well be arguing a different position on a point of contention than what they might believe to be correct in their day-to-day work lives. The panelists were also introduced with fictional personalities ranging from a construction worker to a gangster, but that’s probably not as important here.

The bulb is dead

The first topic for discussion was centered on whether the bulb has a future or is in fact a dead form factor. You can read more on this topic in our Last Word by Lemon from this issue. Miller was selected to argue the point that “the bulb is beautiful,” while Lemon was told to present “sink the socket.” Miller started the debate, stating that there are “xteen bazillion” incandescent sockets installed in the US and the reason the Edison socket is so ubiquitous is that it’s a very effective platform affording different bulb shapes, beam angles, color characteristics, and more. And it’s a path forward to continuous upgrades in term of dimming features, higher efficacy, and more.

Lemon responded with a quip, saying, “Candles aren’t dead, either.” He added, “The bulb actually kind of died a long time ago. We are stuck in forms that are useless because they were created for a technology that doesn’t really exist anymore.” He said the Edison socket is inherently unreliable and that the 2-pin MR16 socket is hardly any better. Furthermore, he suggested that the industry needs to move to a DC power grid for lighting and consumer electronics, and that move would invalidate the existing bulb infrastructure.

The other panelists and members of the audience were allowed to make brief comments relative to the main debaters’ points. York challenged Lemon’s position, saying that the industry can’t do anything to change the installed base of sockets in residential settings. Benya continued the assault of Lemon’s position, arguing that increases in LED efficacy mean that LED lamps need very little heat sinking these days in delivering up to 1000-lm output, and that fact combined with the installed base demands a continued lamp supply.

A member of the audience questioned Miller about lamp types for industrial spaces, such as high-pressure sodium (HPS) where a ballast is required. Miller said removing or replacing the socket makes more sense in those situations — both from economic and energy-efficiency perspectives. But she said it would still be ideal to have support for interchangeability of the light engine in such installations, knowing that efficacy will hit 200 lm/W long before a replacement luminaire would expire.

Based on audience response, Miller was judged to have won the round.

Color tuning

The next topic presented was focused on color tuning with Carangi asked to argue for color-tunable SSL and a “saturate me” point of view. Benya, meanwhile, took the position of fixed white points and the motto of “use a window, damn it.” Carangi opened by saying, “Tunable light is critical to the built environment.” He said people have been living under static light for far too long and quoted a colleague who opined that “life is too short for static light.” He supported those thoughts by noting non-visual impacts of lighting and spectra on people, and also the aesthetic value of tunable lighting. He concluded that, now that we can replicate daylight spectra, we should be doing so and tunable SSL should be just another tool in the lighting designers’ toolbox.

“The best light bulb comes from the sky, and it comes all day long,” said Benya, countering. “All we have to do is bring it inside.” He said most of our buildings have enough windows for the industry to do far more with daylight. He then focused on the problems of color tuning. “We all think that daylight is 10,000K or 18,000K, but it isn’t.” His point was that people in an outdoor environment don’t walk around looking at the sun. We look at the earth, plants, trees, buildings, and more. Benya noted that if you measure the typical outdoor environment with a spectrometer, you learn that we primarily see red, long-wavelength spectra and even near-infrared (NIR). The effect is called albedo, referring to reflected light from the surface of a terrestrial body. He concluded, “Color tuning may someday play a role when we learn how to use it for human health issues.” But such applications are going to be in strictly controlled environments for a long time to come, according to Benya.

Panel comments started with Lemon advocating for Benya’s position. Lemon said, “We are over-technologizing regular lighting.” But Miller said that while we need more daylight and we need to kick people outside for a walk at lunch, we still should use this new color tool or “toy” for different needs or moods throughout the day. She said it doesn’t have to be about circadian needs but just mood needs. “We should dim it down and warm it up at the end of the day,” claimed Miller. Carangi was voted by the audience to have won the round.

Controls and the IoT

The third topic debated by the panel centered on connected lighting, controls, and the IoT. Steen summarized the point of contention, asking, “Will lighting be the frontrunner in collecting and delivering data, opening up brand-new lighting markets and businesses?”

Bukalski was assigned the task of explaining how the lighting industry must evolve to a next phase of digital lighting. York, meanwhile, was to present “this is a bunch of crap and hype” relative to the connectivity move. York spoke first, insisting, “We are simply not ready.” He said the industry can’t currently quantify the value relative to the risk. Moreover, he said no one in the lighting industry fully understands the security issues and that it’s a virtual certainty that lighting and building management systems will be highly vulnerable in a rush to the IoT.

York also brought up a fundamental issue with the smart lighting experience. With legacy lighting, he said, “I hit the switch and the light comes on.” With smart lighting, he said, “I hit the switch, and after a couple of seconds, the light comes on.” He then stated that a few months later it stops working completely, because the lighting system and router aren’t communicating properly, and the user has to talk to tech support. He rhetorically asked, “Who’s smart now?” Still, he returned to security as the bigger issue, saying the SSL sector is woefully unprepared. Again rhetorically, and referring to price erosion, he asked, “With companies in a race to the bottom, is there really any money for security?”

Omnipresent SSL

“The future is now,” countered Bukalski. “We have to be prepared. The IoT is the future.” Then she asked rhetorically why we would not use the lights that are omnipresent and powered as an enabler for the IoT. She went through the typical list of potential value-added applications for smart lighting such as real estate space utilization, indoor wayfinding, asset tracking, and more.

During panelist comments, Benya admitted to seeing both sides of the argument and acknowledging the security risk. Still, he said, “People are mostly missing the point” relative to networked lighting controls. He said networks with sensors have the potential to be buildings’ brain systems and that they can deliver incredible functionality without being exposed to or connected to the actual Internet. He said, “Maybe there is a middle ground here.” 

The audience bought the argument that the IoT is inevitable and the lighting sector must find success in it or become irrelevant and constrained to a commodity future. Several audience comments painted that picture clearly and emphatically despite caution from panelist Lemon, who said connectivity had brought no benefits to the optimization of light in a space.

Lightning round

Next, moderator Steen moved the panel to what he called the lightning round, in which panelists would get only 60 seconds to discuss an issue selected randomly, at least in theory, from a spinning wheel. The first topic was focused on efficacy and the question as to whether it matters any longer, with all lighting over 100 lm/W at the system level. York was selected as the primary speaker by the wheel to argue that efficacy doesn’t matter going forward.

York said when the industry had been using light sources ranging from 15–50 lm/W, efficacy mattered a lot. But he added that the lighting sector has already delivered the most significant reduction in energy use in the history of society, with most new lighting products operating at 150–200 lm/W. He said, “The most important thing we can do now for energy efficiency is actually related to controls.” One could argue that the prior statement ran counter to York’s position in the earlier IoT debate. But he explained that he meant using the light produced in a more efficient manner, focused on the task at hand as opposed to putting light everywhere. He said better photometric performance was far more important than whether the industry can get another 10–20 lm/W in efficacy.

Bukalski was allotted 30 seconds to rebut York and said that every watt still matters. But most of the panelists agreed with York. Lemon said, “We are as efficacious as we need to be.” He added that going forward quality will be more important than efficiency. He lamented that efficacy gets great attention because it’s a simple metric and no such simple metric exists for quality. Miller closed the discussion that round, agreeing that quality was the more important issue, but she reminded the panel and audience that the industry may still need higher-efficacy LEDs to allow product developers to more easily trade off efficiency to achieve higher quality. That final statement led the audience to cast its vote for the argument that efficacy still does matter.

Switch is dead

The next lightning round topic centered on whether the switch is dead or would persevere. The wheel elected Lemon to argue that the switch is dead, while Benya would rebut. Lemon did not truly espouse a position from the perspective that, say, smartphones should replace the switch. We have had that point argued in past columns that we published. Instead, Lemon took the approach that local controls would always be needed, but the industry needs more intuitive switches with more installations supporting dimming and tunable lighting on the rise.

Benya started his rebuttal by insisting that traditional switches work well. But ironically he moved to an argument that somewhat paralleled what Lemon had said. Benya advocated for more stylish switches with better control movements and features such as USB ports. But he reminded the crowd that he advocated for what he called “slightly smart” lighting as opposed to a full IoT scheme. Among the panelists, the strongest argument for complete elimination of the switch was that they are “germy.” The audience expressed unanimous support for the continued use of switches.

Universal TM-30 usage

The final topic for the panel focused on color metrics and whether the lighting industry should shift completely to IES TM-30 and away from the use of any other metric including CRI. The wheel selected Miller to argue that CRI was good enough to remain in use. That was an ironic selection because the PNNL, working on behalf of the DOE, was responsible for the creation of TM-30. Carangi got the assignment to rebut in favor of a swap to TM-30.

Miller started by stating, “We need CRI and R9, for a while.” She said TM-30 is a great improvement but it is far more complicated, and it will take the industry time to make a transition. She said the industry needs CRI as “pastel-colored training wheels” to get retail workers at big-box stores such as Home Depot and Lowe’s to be adept at helping customers with LED lighting and to ultimately move to using TM-30.

“It’s not 1983 anymore and pastels are dead,” argued Carangi. He said workers at Home Depot still don’t know what CRI and R9 mean, but lighting professionals are the target audience for color metrics and that audience is completely capable of working with TM-30. He said, “It’s okay if we get three or four more metrics.” In panelists’ comments, York brought reasoning to the argument. He said you can have two different lighting products in a space with the same CRI and R9 values and have the two deliver distinctly different experiences in terms of saturation. About TM-30, he said, “We need it. It’s the only way we will get consistency.”

Despite that strong argument, Lemon and Benya insisted that CRI would not go away anytime soon. They argued that too many people in the industry are comfortable with it and continue to use it despite its shortcomings. Benya said too many architects don’t really understand CRI or even CCT, so training wheels are, and for a while will be, needed. The audience, being a professional crowd, was near split although we’d judge TM-30 to have carried the argument. Steen called for a “rock, paper, scissors” tiebreaker that swayed the win to keeping CRI around.

As for the game show, Carla Bukalski gathered the most points for being on the winning side of most of the debates. There was no winner’s cash awarded. She will have to rest her laurels on bragging rights. But we did close the show floor later that day with a cash grab in a phone booth for four lucky attendees. As for takeaways from the Strategies in Light panel commentary, it’s clear that the LED and SSL sectors will continue to face the challenges of dealing with legacy products in lighting even as we strive to innovate in terms of form factor, controls, and connectivity. It’s also clear that the use of controls does not always deliver a positive end user experience. Still, that’s an issue with implementation and not an indictment of networked controls in general. You can grasp that concept in some of the questions and answers in our recap of some recent Bluetooth Mesh webcast discussion with speaker Simon Slupik. What is not debatable going forward is the need for continued innovation in light quality. We’d judge the industry to be making good progress there.