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Energy Management

How will the evolution of lighting technology impact the energy efficiency landscape?

It has been a busy couple of weeks for me, closing the books on 2014, writing our retrospective reports, and comparing notes with my colleagues around the nation. And I am consistently hearing the not-so-subtle drumbeat about the monumental rise in adoption rates of LED lighting.

As DNV GL’s marketing manager on DTE Energy’s Energy Efficiency Program for Business, my primary focus is on the commercial and industrial (C&I) space in Michigan. As a manufacturing powerhouse, our state has a lot of industrial facilities, but also offices, hospitals, and universities—all of which are doubling down on LEDs. It’s not that we didn’t see this coming, because we did. Is it happening on a larger scale or sooner than predicted? Maybe. But what it really leaves me thinking is: “Ok, so now what?” Before we answer this, let’s review the facts that led me here.

The oft-cited industry statistics highlight that the cost of LED lamps have fallen more than 85% since 2008. We all know that today’s LEDs can also reduce energy use by more than 75% and last up to 50 times longer than incandescent lights. So it is not surprising that this movement is now well underway. And it is not just the lighting industry that has seen this tide shift. Other industries—including tech and even automotive—have been advancing LED research for years and providing greater economies of scale.

Our local project data points to this wave of change starting in 2013 and accelerating rapidly through 2014, with seemingly no end in sight. In the field we’re seeing more business owners transitioning directly to LEDs, rather than retrofitting their fixtures to accommodate high performance low wattage (HPLW) T8/T5 fluorescent lights. They are also retrofitting their manufacturing and warehousing spaces from high-intensity discharge (HID) lighting directly to LEDs, not opting for fluorescent T8/T5 lighting. Recognizing this trend in 2013, we created new incentives in 2014 to encourage this direct shift to LEDs, which generated $1.7M in incentives last year.

While Demand-Side Management (DSM) efficiency programs around the nation are reaping the success of this transformation to LED lighting today, we need to step back and consider where the realistic energy efficiency opportunities exist down the road. With an estimated lifespan of 10 to 20+ years, LEDs will eventually saturate the market and remain efficiently illuminating their spaces for many, many years to come. And while we’re waiting for those LEDs to dim, we have a little time on our hands to contemplate what is coming next for energy efficiency.

Organic Light Emitting Diodes (OLEDs) are often seen as a next evolution of lighting technology, but their benefits revolve more around design flexibility than energy savings. With lumens-per-watt now cost-effectively maximized in LEDs, our attention needs to move away from the luminaires themselves, and focus instead on how we can most efficiently locate and control them. We also need to ensure a stable and sustainable transformation to LEDs. The lighting industry needs to train distributors, installation contractors, and end users on the lighting standards and publish more industry reports.

The real energy efficiency gains in the not-too-distant future will be in the areas of advanced lighting controls, which feature built-in energy measurement capability. And while lighting controls are not exactly new, the next generation systems will open new doors to operate through Smart Grid-enabled buildings, allowing greater opportunities in demand response. The inherent benefits of proper luminaire placement should also not be overlooked. While a one-for-one replacement is easy, it might not always be necessary. Intelligent design and reducing the number of luminaires not only saves energy, but it also saves the energy to produce and transport the luminaire, and the material cost itself. Quality lighting design is good for the occupant and for the environment.

A recent blog post covered more about the LINCs intelligent controls, which we see playing a valuable role in the efficiency discussion going forward. Energy code lighting power density allowances are dropping nationally, and more stringent control requirements are being adopted in nearly every state. Layered controls and networked lighting systems go beyond code requirements and will offer the greatest energy savings. Solid state lighting is inherently controllable, and we should take advantage of that. With the transformation to LED lighting now well underway—and as simple energy efficiency opportunities from lighting decline—controls and other non-lighting related measures will have to play an increasing role in the energy efficiency landscape.

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