The LED Show speakers call for better design in SSL transition (MAGAZINE)

Nov. 1, 2013
Experts presenting during the two-day conference largely agree that LED technology has arrived, although poor designs, the supply chain, and even uneducated customers still hamper a quicker transition to solid-state lighting, reports Maury Wright.

Unlike in the exhibit hall where LED retrofit lamps were hard to miss, attendees of The LED Show conference sessions (August 14–15, 2013, Las Vegas, Nevada) heard a number of speakers call for a move away from the lightbulb. The recurring theme was that LED technology is now mature enough to take over nearly all general illumination needs, but the most innovative products will come in the form of integral luminaires designed for specific applications. The lighting industry must still overcome some perceptions about the poor quality of LED lighting, caused in part by poor design. Moreover, much education is still required in the customer base and the supply chain needs to be minimized to allow for a faster uptake of solid-state lighting (SSL) technology.

Conference attendees at The LED Show heard from industry experts on topics ranging from LED component technology to the latest trends in lighting design.

The last session of the conference is where we will start and the attendees that hung around to the end sure got rewarded as well-known lighting designer Derry Berrigan and Terrence Walsh, president and CEO of Tempo Industries, took the stage. Berrigan shared insight on some of the obstacles that can slow the pace of projects. She said 80% of the time spent on a lighting project is dedicated to educating decision-makers, with only 20% actually spent on the lighting design.

Berrigan has long been an LED proponent, with acclaimed designs to her credit. But she also has witnessed lighting work that has given LEDs a poor reputation. She shared an experience from the lounge of an upscale hotel in which an LED lighting installation was producing fluctuating light. She asked the hotel engineer about the lighting and the decision to install the lights; the selection was based on the promise of long life and saving money over that life. About the lounge, Berrigan said, “This experience sucks. And this experience is going to suck for 20 years.”

Derry Berrigan said educating decision-makers on LED lighting takes more time than doing the lighting design.

Clearly the lighting industry is still learning to deal with the intricacies of LEDs, as well as learning about matching light sources and the appropriate dimming technology. Growing pains aren’t unexpected, as Berrigan said that the SSL industry is trying to “redefine a century-old value proposition.”

Experience confounds progress

Tempo’s Walsh used a famous J. Paul Getty quote — “In times of rapid change, experience could be your worst enemy” — to describe the current state of the lighting industry. Innovators need to forget what they have learned about the lightbulb and its availability as a commodity product and treat lighting as a high-tech system with an enhanced value proposition, according to Walsh. That value proposition is even stronger when networks and controls are considered.

For lighting manufacturers, the technology has required a fundamental shift in how companies allocate dollars on development. Walsh said Tempo spends 14% of its revenue on research and development. That type of spending has not been typical in the lighting industry.

Tempo Industries’ Terrence Walsh said the LED lighting industry has passed through the trough of disillusionment and is now headed up the slope of enlightenment.

The high research spending doesn’t mean that lighting companies can’t make money. Indeed, Walsh has regularly spoken on the need to simplify the supply chain where a series of businesses are each accustomed to making a small amount of money on commodity products. Walsh asserted, “Anything between us and the customer that does not add value must be eliminated.”

Still, Walsh believes the industry is in a relatively positive place. He showed a chronology curve where a new technology goes through an early peak of inflated expectation followed by a trough of disillusionment. According to Walsh, LED lighting has passed that trough and is now headed up the “slope of enlightenment.”

Ban the Edison socket

One key to the future is the elimination of the Edison socket. A number of speakers noted that the screw-base only exists because early electric lights replaced gas- or oil-burning lamps connected to threaded pipes. Ironically, Berrigan said that the electric light was first sold as a cost saver relative to candles or whale oil. Now LEDs are being in part adopted because of efficiency, but the industry needs to move beyond efficiency as a justification and on to the better light experience that can be achieved by technologies such as tunable SSL.

Easily the most entertaining presentation at the conference came from Kevin Willmorth, owner of lighting consultancy Lumenique, and much of it was focused on the bulb and the Edison socket. He said, “We should have made the Edison socket illegal rather than the incandescent lamp,” referring to energy-efficiency regulations on lightbulbs.

During The LED Show, Kevin Willmorth of Lumenique said, “We should have made the Edison socket illegal rather than the incandescent lamp.”

Willmorth described the Edison base as dangerous and not capable itself of passing UL safety standards, whereas products that are installed in the Edison socket are held to stricter standards. He said California Title 24 is a step in the right direction, requiring GU10 and GU24 lamps in new homes and offices.

The SSL industry has played a part in the longevity of the Edison socket as well. Willmorth roasted the US Department of Energy L Prize for its part in the process. He said, “The real winner is the Edison socket surviving another round of advancing technology.” Willmorth clearly thinks that retrofit lamps are holding back real advancements in both energy savings and better lighting design — and in turn better lighting experiences for people. He concludes, “The incandescent lamp is dead. Let’s get over it already.”

SSL technology improvements

Mark Hand, director, new products and technology at Acuity Brands, took a broad look at the chronology of LED lighting technology to ultimately project where the industry is headed. He said Acuity entered the LED segment focused on high-end architectural lighting design, because those projects could easily afford the upfront cost. He said at that end of the market 0–10V dimming and color consistency within a 3-step MacAdam ellipse were included at the high price points of the fixtures.

Now the growth is in commercial-grade products, where Hand said payback is less than three years now. Hand also noted the success in the downlight market where LEDs are becoming the predominant choice. He said success in that market has in part been enabled by how poorly compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) perform in downlight fixtures, quipping, “CFL made life easy for us.”

Hand sees some markets in which LEDs will struggle to find success even going forward. He noted that in industrial settings, linear fluorescent fixtures will remain tough to beat. But brighter LED fixtures and adaptive controls are enabling some success for SSL in the sector. Hand also said the high-wattage metal-halide fixtures remain beyond the capability of LEDs for the most part.

Hand commented about the LED manufacturers and progress in that sector, and in fact there was a spirited discussion among several manufacturers that kicked off the conference. Hand essentially said LEDs are too bright and that brighter LEDs cause glare issues. Acuity has found that fixtures can perform better and cost less in some cases with more LEDs installed rather than fewer.

Customer demands

Another theme that pervaded the discussion was what customers ask for in lighting products relative to what more appropriate goals they might have for a project. Acuity’s Hand has previous discussed how customers can manage the cost of LED fixtures by only specifying features they really need. Israel Morejon, president and CEO of LEDnovation, struck a similar chord, saying, “It’s easier to tell you what customers don’t want.”

Morejon said that you can now get LED lighting to replace almost any legacy lamp including 2200-lm ceramic metal-halide (CMH) PAR lamps. But lighting designers and specifiers must choose the right lamp for an installation. He recounted a project at the Tampa, Florida airport where the company supplied replacements for halogen lamps in retail shops. He said shops often set the air conditioning at 60° to combat the heat from halogen lamps. He said the project slashed a $10 million annual energy bill by $8.5 million.

The real message from Morejon, and another constant theme at The LED Show, is that customers need to think about lighting as an investment. He said, “You can turn your ceiling into an investment” through energy savings.

The financial story goes deeper than just energy and maintenance savings. In an earlier story on The LED Show posted online, we covered a discussion on financing LED lighting projects.

Don McDougall, general manager of Solid State Capital Services, described the difference between fluorescent and LED lighting projects, saying, “LEDs are a capital improvement for a building. New fluorescent lights are a maintenance [cost].” Tempo’s Walsh made a similar point, saying increasingly he meets with someone who wants to improve the capital value of a building rather than someone looking to buy new lighting to save energy.

Optimizing design

Beyond the financial story, however, the presenters kept coming back to lighting design. Eric Haugaard, director of product technology at Cree, got right to the point, saying, “The lighting design process is more important than the product.” He said that properly applied LEDs could best legacy lighting even before LEDs reached the current state of maturity. He further noted that projects in the 2007–2009 timeframe showed the value of LEDs in uniformity even when the LED fixtures trailed HID alternatives in lumen output and efficacy. And Haugaard said that even today designers should worry more about application-based performance evaluations than about efficacy or other specifications.

Bradley Bouch, senior lighting designer for the Wynn resorts in Las Vegas, Nevada, brought the voice of the lighting design/specification community to the conference. And he was the lone speaker who still thinks LEDs need significant improvement, although he shared the thoughts of many of the speakers that the technology has matured nicely and designs must be done right.

Bradley Bouch, senior lighting designer for the Wynn resorts, said that LED-based retrofit lamps don’t offer the dimming quality required in high-end restaurants.

“The most important thing for us is not the energy savings,” said Bouch. “What we are concerned about at Wynn is the guest experience and what the lighting does to enhance that experience.” Ironically, much of Bouch’s comments were about retrofit lamps because hospitality applications still rely broadly on incandescent and halogen lamps.

Bouch said that Wynn has used LED lighting in public spaces, casinos, and restrooms, but he said even the best products on the market aren’t a match for incandescent lamps when it comes to dimming and that Wynn will continue to use legacy MR16 lamps in restaurants. He said the Soraa MR16 lamps show promise and that Wynn used those products in some villas, but that they still don’t dim well enough for restaurants.

Too bright

The issue of retrofitting a space is also a problem with LEDs, according to Bouch, because he said that LED lamps are often too bright for one-to-one retrofits. Indeed, Wynn reduced the aperture on some fixtures to 2 in. to limit the light out of LED-equipped fixtures. Bouch would prefer to stay with 3–4-in. apertures.

Still, it’s the color quality that Bouch identified as the primary challenge remaining for LED lighting. He said, “It’s not that I don’t appreciate the colors that are available, but I think we can do better.” Bouch also wants manufacturers to offer lenses, louvers, and other accessories for SSL products, claiming that designers do their art with such accessories. He added, “I want the ability to affect a space with light, not just illuminate it.”

Back to where we started, Tempo’s Walsh closed the conference with a summation of some opportunities and challenges. He described the retrofit market in general, and the retrofit lamp market in particular, as a short-term supernova. But he added, “Once it happens, it’s gone.” At The LED Show in 2012, Walsh said socket saturation could occur in five years. Lighting manufacturers or designers seeking long-term success must focus on the lighting experience and value-added features.

Walsh sees tremendous opportunity in controls but challenges as well. He said that 43% of the fixtures installed with integrated sensors have those sensors disabled, and that the industry needs simpler commissioning tools.

There was a surprise at the end of Walsh’s presentation where he brought solar energy into the picture, saying, “LEDs breathe life into solar.” While solar efficiency has hit a wall at 12%, that efficiency is not a game breaker with low-power SSL. And with or without solar in the picture, Walsh said we need system integration with controls, HVAC systems, and a mix of AC- and DC-powered LED lighting.