As we do each spring, this week a team of Groom Energy engineers made the pilgrimage to Lightfair in search of “the next big thing” in lighting. We went to training sessions, walked the exhibit floor and talked with smart folks to develop a collective view of what’s going on, what’s hot and what’s not.
As it’s now Year 5 since LEDs took over LightFair, we were already anticipating an overwhelming number of new LED products. Showing that “anyone with a brand name” needs to enter the LED game, this year’s winner was Whirlpool, a company extending their energy management apps for appliances into lighting?
But beyond sheer volume, three subthemes emerged:
1. Warmer colors: Better LED price performance now gives vendors the chance to show off products that come in warmer color temperatures (2700K and 3000K.)
In the past manufacturers prioritized achieving high lumen output over producing warmer colors (which also takes chip performance.) First and second generation LED lamps and fixtures were often cold, operating at 5000 to 6500K.
Today they can do both. Booth marketing teams this year talked about CRI, color blending and warmer colors instead of bragging about how long LEDs last.
One vendor took us into a dark booth to show off two side by side LED retail displays, both with high CRI and warm color. Evidently 97% of the retail merchandizers surveyed at a prior conference had picked one over the other. Our team had a blank stare – with our energy-efficiency eye both looked equally great.
2. Smarts are in (literally): Lighting control for digital LEDs is happening and it’s even moving from add-on systems to embedded.
Vendors are showing off their integration with third party controls and more booths have LCDs showing fancy software screens with lighting control graphics. Maybe CA’s Title 24, which requires lighting controls, and is set to go live January 1, 2014 is helping?
Up and coming players all had their announcements – Enlighted announcing another fund raise of $20 million and Digital Lumens demonstrated their integration to other LED fixtures.
Where last year Lutron announced their plan to embed their controls widget into CREE fixtures, this year the move is to add capabilities directly into LED drivers and ballasts. Marvel’s partnership with Daintree moves this direction. And its even happening with smart, connected street lighting like Echelon’s deal to be embed their technology directly into Osram ballasts.
While the embedded wave generally doesn’t add new control capabilities, it does attack lowering the cost – which is the real sign of a maturing market.
3. Lamps and fixtures look the same, now they just have LEDs inside. A few years ago manufacturers were struggling with how to replace round and tubular HID and fluorescent lamps with flat LED chips inside “traditional” lamp housings . This year we saw a noticeable number of lamps and fixtures where you didn’t know LEDs were inside.
Part of this comes as a result of LED performance increases, which now allow manufacturers to add glare reducing diffusors to cover the point source chips. Where lots of bright dots used to give away the fact that it was an LED fixture, now lighting distribution is more even. In an effort to get more configurability out of one lamp or fixture, manufacturers like Soraa and Amerlux showed a set of clip-on lenses which can be used to shape light as needed even after installation.
This move to “look like what you know” was strongest at the CREE booth. Earlier they had already introduced a new LED A lamp, which looks virtually identical to a traditional incandescent bulb in your home. This year they showed off a T8 retrofit look alike, which replaces the linear fluorescent lamps in a traditional 2×2 or 2×4 office troffer fixture. The color was great, the shape was identical and you could keep your existing fixture in place. Looking up you could not tell the difference – looking down at your utility bill you likely will…