What’s the smart strategy for the LED and SSL industry?

Feb. 13, 2020
From the keynotes to the tracks to the show floor, many at Strategies in Light were in agreement that the SSL industry’s transition to connected applications and value-added services is slow and painful, but it is moving toward the light, no pun intended.

Despite my bleary eyes and circadian confusion, I’ve never been more clear that the LED and solid-state lighting (SSL) industry has every reason for optimism and expansion into emerging technologies should we collectively take direction from intelligence that was gathered while attending Strategies in Light this week.

From the Plenary session to the core conference tracks to the show floor, many were in agreement that the SSL industry’s transition to connected applications and value-added services is slow and painful, but it is moving toward the light, no pun intended.

Engineer and lighting designer Jim Benya of the Benya Burnett Consultancy stated unequivocally in his keynote that “the energy era of lighting is officially over.” So what does that mean? Essentially, Benya observed, LEDs have met the demand for energy efficiency and there isn’t much more room to improve there. My main takeaway of his “Vision 2040” talk was the industry needs to deliver on the promise of high-performance LEDs that already demonstrate high efficacy and color quality, and embrace advanced SSL product development and lighting design techniques instead of mimicking conventional fixtures and methods of lighting the built environment.

As he was succeeded by scientist Bob Karlicek of the Lighting Enabled Systems & Applications (LESA) Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, whose keynote address was titled “The End of the SSL Revolution, or is it the Beginning?” the audience learned that the concept of “creative destruction” developed by economist Joseph Schumpeter is not to be feared but to be embraced. As Karlicek explained with his slides, there is an imperative to create new markets that launch new technologies that destroy old technologies and that is how capitalism keeps going. In this case, I’d reduce the scope of capitalism slightly to “lighting industry.” Karlicek noted that LESA continues to apply itself toward converging technologies in order to advance toward a smart, connected future based on automation and machine learning or artificial intelligence. “The artificial intelligence of things (AIoT) will be necessary for truly smart, connected lighting,” he claimed. And this idea has been echoed by others, including by Cree Lighting IoT director Derek Loyer in our recent Q&A article.

I think that we’re getting closer to incorporating the ideas of advanced connectivity and computing capability converging as they are becoming near-imperatives. Similar messages were echoed in other sessions and areas of the conference. Consultant Peter Brown, Lighting Transitions, conveyed that although the industry has been promoting smart lighting for years, the largest connected lighting project on record (Target integrating Acuity Brands technology across 1800+ stores) still only accounts for a small percentage of smart lighting installations. But as Igor marketing director Kim Johnson pointed out in her presentation on power over Ethernet (PoE) for connected smart buildings, customers are confused and territories can get tricky when it comes to the electrical, lighting, and mechanical systems contractors involved in outfitting a smart building. “PoE offers a way to make [connected lighting] clearer and achievable,” she said, due to open standards, low-voltage power distribution at up to 100W capacity per port, and the ability to carry data to and from networked devices in multiple configurations. She also supported the idea that information technology and operational technology (IT/OT) are converging and will accelerate, then the automation capabilities and data analytics offered by smart systems will lead to AI applications that heavily involve lighting.

When will all this convergence take place? Well, if you look at the labs and the academic side, it’s happening now. When will it become commercial reality? That remains to be seen.