By Stuart Berjansky
From the April 2022 Issue
Since entering the scene in earnest in the mid-2000s, light emitting diode (LED) fixtures have been steadily transforming the lighting market—their super-efficiency and durability appealing to facility management’s appetite for lower energy and maintenance costs alike.
Early in the LED timeline, a 2008 Forbes article1 observed that “LEDs are finally on the verge of having the capability to radically alter the entire lighting landscape with staggering improvements in both lighting efficiency and efficacy.” The move to LED technology, the author wrote, was worthy of the word “revolution.”
Even in those initial, promised-filled days of 2008, however, Forbes referenced “quality of light” as “one last hurdle for LEDs to overcome.”
Fast forward to 2022 and the lighting community is fully engaged in surmounting that hurdle as the first generation of LED fixtures now need to be replaced.
From the beginning, LEDs have been an obvious lighting solution in terms of energy. The U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA) reports2 that today’s LEDs use up to 90% less energy than incandescent bulbs and last up to 25% longer. With costs declining, LEDs are expected to meet up to 95% of commercial lighting needs by 2050. A March 2022 study3 by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE) strengthened support for LEDS, noting that these are now “widely available and provide the same or better lighting, longer product life, and much lower total cost than fluorescents.”
As the LED market has matured over the past decade, the lighting industry has pursued—successfully—ever-greater efficacy and lower production costs.
Along the way, however, that focus has sometimes sidelined the importance of the “quality of light” attributes that can affect people’s comfort, well-being, mood, and performance. Along with maximizing efficiency, those concerns must be front and center as office buildings, hospitals, schools, and retail spaces begin replacing first-generation LED fixtures.
Achieving this will hinge in large part on ensuring the controllability of newly installed LEDs. Continuing to install LEDs as standalone fixtures is a yesterday solution that won’t meet today’s objectives.
With this in mind, the DesignLights Consortium (DLC) recently implemented new requirements for products included on its Solid-State Lighting (SSL) Qualified Products List (QPL), a resource that supports and guides energy efficiency incentive programs for commercial and industrial (C&I) electric utility customers across North America. By recognizing the impact of attributes such as color and spectral quality, glare mitigation, and controllability, this policy supports efforts to balance energy efficiency with the importance of ensuring that C&I lighting benefits people, as well as the electric grid.
From a building operations perspective, pointing the LED market in a more controls-friendly direction enables facility managers to adjust work environments to improve employee comfort and well-being, while locking in opportunities for significant energy savings. Since LEDs installed now may run for another decade or more, including controllability features at the time of LED installation (such as dimming capability and integrated controls for daylight and occupancy sensing) ensures potential energy and cost savings for years to come. Conversely, not doing this risks stranding these savings.
For example, listing on the DLC’s SSL QPL now requires that LED products include dimming capability, a critical component for capturing additional energy savings and potentially integrating lighting with other building systems. A 2017 Department of Energy (DOE) study4 (based on the 2015 U.S. lighting market) reported that only 1% of commercial sector lighting was dimmable, and 82% of lamps and luminaires had no controls beyond a simple on/off switch. While uptake of the technology has since increased, controllability remains an underutilized tool for improving both energy savings and occupant satisfaction.
Beyond the obvious fact that a dimmed light uses less energy, dimming capability enables other noteworthy energy savings. A 2020 DLC/Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance study, for example, showed that combining dimmable LEDs with networked lighting controls (NLC) expands energy savings by nearly 50%, on average.5
Globally, energy used for lighting produces approximately 5% of carbon emissions, according to Allied Market Research’s “Industrial and Commercial Lighting Market Outlook, 2025”—a factor that makes efficient commercial lighting an essential component for meeting local, regional, and state decarbonization targets. Currently, 24 states and the District of Columbia6 have economy-wide carbon emissions goals, and 130 US cities, representing over 54 million people, have signed onto the Cities Race to Zero, a United Nations campaign that envisions a zero-carbon world.
As any energy efficiency aficionado knows, the cleanest and cheapest kilowatt is the one that is never produced. In fact, the DOE calls energy efficiency “one of the easiest and most cost-effective ways to combat climate change, clean the air we breathe, improve the competitiveness of our businesses, and reduce energy costs for consumers.” Capable of managing the timing and output of light fixtures—and therefore the electric load needed to run them, LED fixtures with advanced controls are stars in this scenario.
Projected growth in the smart buildings market is another compelling reason for building professionals to make sure the LEDs they install today are equipped with controls. With estimated worth of nearly $66.3 billion in 2020, the global smart buildings market size is expected to more than double, reaching $141.7 billion in 2028, according to a December 2021 report by Emergen Research.
Ubiquitous in ceilings throughout commercial buildings and industrial facilities, LED fixtures are potential vehicles for collecting data useful for various smart building functions if equipped with advanced controls. And due to the long life of LEDs, pairing them with controls at the time of installation ensures their relevance as a gateway to more connected and smarter buildings into the future. Networked controls can communicate with other building systems and directly with facility managers to improve environments in ways ranging from energy efficiency and employee comfort to space and resource utilization and emergency response. Operations such as remote diagnostics, energy monitoring, external integration with building management and energy management systems, retro-commissioning, load shedding, and demand response are all possible through NLCs—and all generate incremental value for building managers.
From a non-energy standpoint, marrying LEDs with advanced controls ensures they are equipped to perform building management functions such as asset tracking and space utilization, which are increasingly important in commercial real estate. In hospitals, for example, sensors housed in networked controllable LEDs can assist in tracking assets such as wheelchairs and medical equipment through mobile computer systems, saving staff time and resources and boosting efficiency.
The transition to LED technology was the focus of lighting innovation a decade ago. Today’s hallmark is a movement to pair LEDs with controls that unleash their full energy and non-energy benefits.
As first-generation LED luminaires reach the end of their usefulness, facility managers have a brief window of opportunity to replace them with fixtures that will improve lighting quality, save electricity and associated emissions, and support greater building intelligence for many years to come. Due to the long shelf life of LEDs, it’s an opportunity that won’t recur for a decade or more, and one that shouldn’t be missed.
6 https://www.c2es.org/document/greenhouse-gas- emissions-targets/
Berjansky is technical director of the DesignLights Consortium, a non-profit organization whose mission is to achieve energy optimization by enabling controllability with a focus on quality, people, and the environment. He guides development of technical requirements in the DLC’s Solid-State Lighting, Networked Lighting Controls, and Horticultural Lighting programs.
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