This year we flew the whole Groom Energy field engineering team to Las Vegas for LightFair, the 25th annual lighting industry show. While Vegas is a fun location for our team meeting, our real plan was to conduct an LED scavenger hunt, sending our engineers onto LightFair’s 500+ vendor filled exhibit hall in search of the latest, coolest LED lighting technologies.
Can you remember the world pre-iPhone (2007)? It was the same year of the last pre-LED Lightfair and within two years the show had fully shifted, becoming “LEDFair.” LEDs have since become the industry’s iPhone – with near universal awareness, third generation apps, innovation and coolness – and an industry fawning all over how best to participate in it’s growth. This week 25,000 attendees will walk the show searching for all things LED, strolling right by any pre-iPhone (HID & fluorescent) lighting displays. And the products have advanced dramatically since our first Commercial and Industrial LED Research Report in 2010, with some we studied now having a third the original cost, twice the performance, higher CRI and 10 year warranties.
Last year’s LightFair was about advancements in LED color quality, intelligent control and fixture type adoption. This year we had armed our 30 engineers with lists of “must sees” and “nice to sees” and expected they would also uncover some unexpecteds. The morning after our hunt the team met to debrief.
Their high level takeaway?
Scary to say, but Lightfair has actually become a bit more ho-hum.
Oh yes there are lots of new things – but after several years of new product intros, higher lumen/watt performance milestones and plunging prices, the LED market has become more like the traditional lighting world it so quickly supplanted. It’s no longer if, but when LED takes over and senior managers have no career risk by adopting LED.
Like the years pre-iPhone, Lightfair has gone back to being dominated by big guy announcements (Philips, GE, CREE, Sylvania and Lithonia) with crowds forming around their booths. At one moment we did see a gathering at the Gigatera booth, but it turned out one of their LED fixtures had literally caught on fire:) ”Chinatown,” which five years ago hosted no-name manufacturers offering crude first versions LEDs, has disappeared, moving onto the exhibit floor as private label knock off products offered by bigger brands.
So what did our team bring back as new and interesting?
Controls: Wattstopper, Daintree and Digitial Lumens all showed their latest control advancements, with a continuing theme of smaller, cheaper, modular and more features for controlling and measuring energy savings activities. Form factors have gone from $60 six inch wired bricks to $10 one inch plug-in chips in just one year. Acuity, CREE, GE also had “intelligent” control announcements.
Legacy Manufacturers turn LED: A newly supported global standard (Zhaga) for LED modules now allows fixture manufacturers to easily convert their fluorescent and HID fixtures into LED, using simple LED modules from name brand companies like Philips, Sylvania and LG. These modules now have standardized power inputs, screw patterns and lumen output. Its a bolt-on and presto – a new LED fixture that looks like the old one. One of our engineers even found an LED version of an HID fixture which had been tuned to produce the original obnoxious yellow high pressure sodium light output.
LED Fixture Retrofits: Like the module conversions, the market is transitioning from replacing entire lighting fixtures with their LED equivalents to retrofitting existing fixtures with new LED guts. This approach lowers costs further, driving better paybacks while mitigating employee reactions to a new fixture’s different look and feel in their workplace. These retrofits can be performed quietly at night, without anyone even knowing it happened – but the utility bill and lighting maintenance budgets get a big benefit.
LED T8: On one of our 2010 market predictions we were dead wrong. As engineers we pontificated that heat dissipation challenges would ultimately prevent LEDs from replacing fluorescent T8 lamps with LED versions in the same form factors. In 2011 the DOE put out a technical study which showed that performance and price were still not there, with one of the “best in class” LED products costing $120 per lamp. Today a T8 fluorescent only costs $2 to 5 depending on volume.
Wow, did we miss this one.
LED T8 has arrived and is being offered by the market’s most reputable players. A few weeks ago CREE introduced their own T8 LED, announcing their LED T8 Series, while Philips did the same thing earlier this year with their InstantFit product. Not too far behind, GE was showing their yet to be released LED T8 product as well. While these lamps are still $20-40, utility rebates are supporting many of these upgrades and long run hour applications can hit fast paybacks.
The key to these newest lamps is that the replacement is a simple twist and swap out with the existing fluorescent lamp. No rewiring necessary. First and second versions had required bypassing the existing ballast, or installing a separate driver, both adding electrical labor cost to each replacement. Sylvania’s UltraLED version has this challenge, although we shouldn’t be surprised if their next one is a twist version.