LED Lighting will Change Everything
Tom Griffiths – Publisher
February 23, 2012…Every technological revolution encompasses two distinct phases, and LED lighting is no exception. In the first phase, inventors work to adapt a new technology as some form of direct replacement for the incumbents while the second phase involves new applications that likely have never existed. LED lighting has started with standard street lights, ceiling troffers and replacement lamps (PARs and A-lamps), which is comparable to the first horseless carriages in the automobile evolution, or for the PC, networked systems in the accounting and materials departments. In that second phase, though, entirely new applications emerge, both for the technology itself, as well as in those areas it "suddenly" enables. When cars and trucks became capable of reliable travel at speeds above 50 MPH, highways came into being and the car was now a long distance travel tool. Some related 'apps' that followed were in-dash car radios (and the resulting music industry explosion), motels and fast-food. In the case of the 'networked PC and optical communications revolution', once we had arrived at high-speed networking and the thing called 'the internet', the E-commerce (and search engine) bonanza began, along with the whole mobile device and 'apps' revolution. In much the same way, LED lighting will revolutionize more in our lives than most people can imagine (and it shouldn't come as a big surprise that this will be a big focus at the SSL Summit, April 3-4 in Long Beach).
One key area will be related to better lighting for our interior and exterior environments. The word "better", in this case, is intended to be broadly encompassing, including such things current talking points as better color rendering, better quality, better efficiency. Perhaps more important, though, what I'll call the "future betters", which would be such things as better for you (healthier), better utilized, more responsive to each of us as individuals, better for our overall productivity. LEDs, by their nature, are "designed" to produce light narrow wavelength ranges. Blue, red or green are produced at specific sets of blue, red or green wavelengths, depending upon the material properties of the semiconductors doing the work. What that implies is the we can "tune" the mix of wavelengths involved in doing whatever jobs is asked of them. In some cases, such as theatrical or movie stage lighting, it may be to enhance different tones to create a better balance or specific emotional effect. In other cases, we want to use those narrow LEDs wavelengths to "pump" the light out of a phosphor blend, which gives off a fairly broad spectrum of light. Whether tuned at the manufacturing or system level, the end result is that we're able to pretty much specify what mix of wavelengths we want to produce, which also means choosing wavelengths we want to experiment with.
The folks at RPI's Lighting Research Center (LRC) have done some interesting work recently in determining what appears as "white light" to people, and not unsurprisingly, they've discovered that it doesn't appear to precisely match the white-light curve that we've defined relative to incandescent light sources. RPI has also done work in uncovering how light affects our bodies, most notably in conjunction with melatonin, which affects circadian rhythm, seasonal affective disorders and jet lag. They're able to conduct this testing, large part, because LEDs have provided a tool to allow them to deliver specific frequencies and blends of light. I just recently heard about a new Alzheimer's care facility that is being built from the ground up specifically as an Alzheimer's facility. Attention will be paid to creating an environment that contributes to the patient's well being, including anything that is known to arrest the progress of that terrible disease. You know lighting is going to be a big part of the puzzle, and as we learn more and more about it, why shouldn't we expect that the correct ambient and "treatment" lighting will be able to add years to the "lucid time" that those afflicted have available to them. This just scratches the surface of what we're about to learn about light, and how to harness it to improve people's quality of life.
The second key area will be in "smarter" lighting. Again, it's an encompassing term that not only describes the amount of on-board intelligence, but speaks into how the photons are applied, and how they interact with the occupants of the space. In simplest terms, light will go from passive to "active". One big way will be to adjust the amount of lighting required based upon the combination of daylight, occupancy, productivity and availability. Sometimes that will be a balancing act, such as in the midst of a California heat wave when availability is poor, demand is high and brownouts are imminent. While we might like that outside wall conference room a little brighter, our actual productivity won't be affected in the meeting if the lights are low or even off. A meeting only illuminated by what's coming in the window is a lot more tolerable than having to recover work lost on our desktop PCs when the grid came crashing down… we'd 'get it' and wouldn't even grumble.
A big part of that will smarts will be enabled by a whole new generation of sensors. Companies like Redwood Systems are fully focused on a sensor in every luminaire (fixture) to provide motion/occupancy as well as ambient light feedback. All that ties into the software (and more software, and more software) that assimilates the data and manages it according to the users' and facility operators' desires. Those lighting management systems will have all the hooks in them to tie into other aspects of the environment, including HVAC and security, so ultimately, the building will be one tightly managed system. And since the one "have to" that will operate with the finest granularity is lighting, it can be expected that those sensors in every luminaire will serve as the backbone for virtually all the sensing that needs to take place. In a recent visit to Redwood, as they provided a few live examples of the monitoring and response, it was easy to visualize that the response to a late-night intrusion alarm being the arriving police officers finding their path from the front door to the hiding "perp" being carefully illuminated, with the bad-guys' position being lit in a bright red (or black and white stripes, if you prefer). That's a lot better than walking into a dark building, trying to guess where the bad-guy may be, while hoping you can illuminate him (or her) with your Maglite before they manage to target you… Down come the insurance rates and we're all economically happier as well!
The goals for the LED lighting industry should be pretty straight forward. To help everyone the world over to live happier, healthier and more productive lives. That will combine the elements of optimizing energy use, lowering the cost per lumen, and increasing the usefulness of the lumens that are delivered, both relative to how they are delivered now, and towards the idea of nearly-perfect light every where we need it, and not where we don't. As folks like Derry Berrigan, Jeff Miller and Chip Israel have worked to teach us, working with something as elemental as light really is important to us all.
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