Are we pushing complex SSL solutions too quickly?

June 28, 2019
Could simplified lighting offerings promote “tunable SSL for all” within the consumer base comfort zone?

The California Lighting Technology Center, based at the University of California – Davis, recently hosted a webinar in which its research staff summarized the latest studies and outcomes undertaken by CLTC and its partners. The run-through of the organization’s projects was interesting for sure, but one item fairly leaped off the screen to me. The CLTC participated in developing and trialing a bi-modal phosphor-converted (PC) amber/white LED luminaire in a university residential setting. The solid-state lighting (SSL) ceiling troffer product switches from white to amber on a day-to-evening cycle.

You can obtain more information from the CLTC on its findings regarding visual acuity and circadian support under the bi-modal illumination scheme, among its other projects. But during the post-webinar Q&A, I had to ask the question: What is the advantage of the bi-modal color tuning approach? Simplicity? Cost? Associate development engineer Philip von Erberich responded that, indeed, it was all of the above. “The system is easier to control with two channels, less expensive to develop, and a simpler option for users.” He concluded that “full color tuning is a real possibility as the technology matures and the cost goes down.”

Which got me thinking. Haven’t we been examining and covering broader white-point and full-color tunability for a while now? I can point back to a feature, contributed by ams, from our prior Illumination in Focus spin-off in 2013, in which was described a “cognitive lighting” system that could use intelligent sensors to adjust the CCT and luminance levels of LED lighting. Since the capability of such technology exists, why isn’t it being widely utilized across all lighting segments?

Perhaps the answer is that as an industry, we are pushing complex controls and SSL hardware to consumers too quickly. We saw how long it took for consumers to accept and adopt the LED lamp as a consequence of both price and lack of product education. And integrated LED luminaire adoption is advancing slowly as well, with that sector expected to reach 60% of global shipments by 2022. We watch the market pace itself as component and manufacturing costs go down, and we study the forecast numbers provided by our colleagues at Strategies Unlimited. But are we also a bit guilty of assuming that the enormous consumer market is ready for the advances that the SSL industry is already commercializing? How many consumers are willing — and financially able — to incorporate new wiring patterns to change out the location of fixtures and wall controls, learn how to utilize smartphone-based lighting management systems, and understand the impact of various lighting conditions on mood, behavior, sleep patterns, and so on, as outlined in a residential case study on tunable lighting from 2018?

Maybe such a bi-modal offering demonstrated by the CLTC is the interim – or even the ultimate – solution for a lighting market segment that is hesitant to commit to more complex and costly illumination technology. I’m certainly not claiming I have the “right” answer…just wondering if a fully-featured tunable lighting system is the optimal fit for a large swath of the consumer user base.

Want to weigh in? Please email your proposals to me if you are interested in contributing to this blog.

*Updated July 12, 2019 6:45 AM for luminaire mode correction.