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State of the Solid-State: Lutron, Forest and TCP Execs Weigh In

State of the Solid-State: Lutron, Forest and TCP Execs Weigh In

By Tom Geiser

The LED market has rapidly matured in a way not seen with other lighting products. It also holds great promise as a tool for manufacturers and end-users to take advantage of its benefits, including long lifetimes and consistent output, for applications well beyond outdoor and indoor lighting. We recently spoke with Brian Donlon, VP of Commercial Sales at Lutron Electronics, Jian Ni, Chief Operating Officer at Forest Lighting Americas, and Brian Catlett, Chief Executive Officer at TCP Lighting, about the challenges and opportunities provided by solid-state lighting at this still-early stage of adoption and usage.

 

Q&A with Lutron’s Brian Donlon:

Brian Donlon, VP of Commercial Sales at Lutron Electronics

lightED: Has the explosion of the lighting market in recent years surpassed your expectations?

Donlon: Absolutely. In the residential market, two trends stand out: the use of voice control and the need for simple, reliable products that seamlessly integrate with other smart home devices and systems. Digital assistants, like Apple Siri and Amazon Alexa, have become more precise and increasingly capable, changing the way consumers interact with technology, particularly in their homes. The expectation of lighting control today is that it will integrate with other smart home technology, providing convenience, comfort and peace of mind that improves people’s lives.

In the commercial market, LEDs and the evolving Internet of Things have transformed the lighting landscape. At 20-30% more efficient than many fluorescent lamps, LEDs offer energy savings as an obvious benefit. But far beyond efficiency, disruptive lighting control technologies such as LEDs, evolving software capabilities, and wireless protocols offer significant advantages that improve building operations, and enhance occupant comfort and productivity on every project.

lightED: What will be the key drivers in the US lighting market in the near-term (between now and 2020)?

Donlon: The growth of connected devices and software will drive this market. Building systems have had powerful software capabilities for some time now. Wireless lighting control solutions ensure that the lighting control system can more effectively participate in the Internet of Things to improve building operation and maintenance. Intuitive new apps and Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) can also turn your smart device into a powerful resource to help unlock the system’s full potential – whether the project is retrofit or new construction.

In the commercial market, automated control systems can seamlessly integrate and manage lighting and shade control in response to pre-defined building settings, scenes, timeclocks, or user-defined events. Because lighting, more than any other building system, affects every space in a building, data collected from smart lighting systems can be instrumental in helping a facilities team better understand and evaluate how buildings are used. This data can identify what spaces are occupied and when, whether building occupants are interacting with the lighting control, and how system settings can be quickly and easily adjusted to optimize building performance, enhance comfort, and improve building value.

In the residential market, new options in wireless, connected home control lets you control your lights from your smart device, anywhere in the world. Wireless control can also simplify integration of lighting, shades, temperature, and even appliance control using a smart bridge, and easy-to-use apps. Consider this common situation: You’re already at work and you wonder whether you left your lights on? With smart lighting controls, you can quickly check your Lutron app, and one touch on your phone can remedy the problem.

As connected lighting becomes more commonplace, building owners and consumers will just expect smart lighting control to be part of their space, and contractors/builders will need to offer reliable solutions that are easy to install and set up.

lightED: What does the future hold for light and connectivity?

Donlon: As connectivity helps to increase the intelligence, interoperability and capability of the lighting control systems, they will become more responsive, and better able to automatically accommodate individual preferences in the workplace.

Lutron lighting control systems can integrate with building management systems via BACnet and other integration protocols, but they can also take advantage of wireless connectivity making integration easier and more cost-effective, facilitating seamless interoperability between fixed devices, mobile devices, and external systems to make spaces and buildings smarter.

For example, the lighting control system can detect occupancy based on both sensors and the presence of a smart phone, and communicate that to other building systems. Stronger connections between systems ultimately create more robust networks, and benefits emerge organically.

As the IoT fosters even more advanced integration, device-to-external-data-sources (such as lights to weather data) will play a bigger part in delivering responsive buildings that anticipate lighting needs and seamlessly adjusts lights, shades, and temperature to provide the ideal working, or living, environment. Lutron solutions are designed to deliver these features as the customer is ready to embrace them.

lightED: How will distributors play a role in the future of lighting sales?

Donlon: Distributors have a tremendous opportunity to make themselves the experts for their customers by combining their electrical knowledge with their knowledge of devices, offering  connected technologies for easy control of lights, shades and temperature, and helping to train and educate contractors and installers on new control solutions and strategies.
Lutron lighting control systems can integrate with building management systems via BACnet and other integration protocols, but the IoT will make integration easier and more cost-effective, facilitating seamless interoperability between fixed devices, mobile devices, and external systems to make spaces and buildings smarter. In turn, these technologies can help create a more productive workplace. Distributors are in a tremendous position to help promote connected control solutions.

The connected home is a growing reality for every market segment from a consumer’s first apartment to a luxury, custom home. Distributors can significantly grow their business and differentiate their value by becoming the solutions provider for connected home control.

lightED: How can distributors build a stronger relationship with designers and contractors to use the best light in the correct situations?

Donlon: Today, the speed of change, conflicting information, and unpredictable outcomes are all significant issues for contractors and designers. One example is the tremendous influx of new LED fixtures and manufacturers. Contractors need to sift through a variety of information on what to install, how to install it, how to control it, etc.  In addition, light levels, temperature, color, and dimming ranges vary by fixture and not all luminaires are created equal – the type and quality of light and control performance varies widely.

All this change and confusion increases risk for the electrical contractor. With the help of responsible manufacturers, distributors can differentiate themselves and forge strong relationships by helping educate their customers and add value on every project.

lightED: How will price impact the future of lighting?

Donlon: LED prices are coming down rapidly, cementing their place as the light source of the future. This trend gives customers and lighting professionals endless options to choose from, but it also complicates their decisions. Compatibility between LED lamps, fixtures and dimming controls can be confusing, but high-quality, customer-centric manufacturers are committed to providing clarity, and simplifying your LED purchase.

lightED: What do you think the capabilities of light may one day become?

Donlon: Lighting technologies and control capabilities, such as tunable white, continue to evolve and focus on improving lighting where we work and live. Forward-thinking lighting control and automated shading system providers have the opportunity to drive progress, push the technology envelope, and set the standard for digital control solutions that help create dynamic, comfortable, personalized, productive environments in any space.

 

Q&A with Forest’s Jian Ni:

Jian Ni, Chief Operating Officer at Forest Lighting Americas

lightED: Has the explosion of the lighting market in recent years surpassed your expectations?

Ni: As one the world’s largest LED manufacturers, we began ramping up LED product development and manufacturing capability 20 years ago. The forces of energy savings and operating costs clearly could not be denied. Every rapid growth market has unforeseen opportunities and consequences, and the ability to adapt is always the key to future growth.

Although lighting market growth is positive, the adoption of new technologies is slower than I expected.  End users are very cautious, and we have to be patient.

lightED: What will be the key drivers in the US Lighting market between now and 2020?

Ni: LEDs as the preferred, modern light source will continue to be at the heart of all lighting market activity. Global consolidation of manufacturers, component suppliers, distributors and end-users will speed the adoption of new technologies including IoT, Li-Fi, and power over Ethernet. Lighting will be further integrated into societal issues such as crime prevention, traffic control, residential and public space security. Government bodies will struggle to stay ahead of regulatory and standards requirements.

lightED: What does the future hold for light and connectivity?

Ni: Residential gets the press, but commercial, retail and institutional applications are where real benefits will be manifested. Monitoring of all building systems will become more integrated and sophisticated, and control of the systems- especially lighting- will be commonplace. Lighting systems will be integrated with Artificial Intelligence, wall and dimmer switches will disappear, and wireless systems will be the standard.

lightED: How will distributors play a role in the future of lighting sales?

Ni: Distributors are at risk if they do not evolve. They must develop expertise in the total lighting systems for all types of applications. They must provide front line information to contractors and end-users, and be expert trainers. Inventory and credit will not be enough. There will be less physical handling of product.

lightED: How can distributors build a stronger relationship with designers and contractors to use the best light in the correct situations?

Ni: Distributors must build a reputation for highly technical product and application knowledge, and be able to communicate effectively with lighting designers and engineers. They must carry brands and products that easily integrate. They must be aware of- and compete effectively with- the IoT/Online marketplace. Distributors must partner with the most capable local sales agents to maximize customer service.

lightED: How will price impact the future of lighting?

Ni: Component costs will continue to decline. Systemization of technologies will drive up costs but provide great value and intelligence. End users will have more options with higher efficiencies, better controls, and design options available for their budgets. New markets and applications (such as building façade lighting) will provide revenue streams.

lightED: What do you think the capabilities of light may one day become?

Ni: We will be able to measure productivity and performance increases created by good lighting design.  Illumination becomes lighting with a purpose beyond office and factory workflow. Lighting design objectives will include mood and sense of well being. Lighting will take a more active role in healthcare and improve quality of life in senior living situations, and improve surgery outcomes. Lighting will improve lives of people with Aspergers, Parkinsons, Autism. Illumination will be integrated in our total environment- from roads to rooms- without visible light bulbs and fixtures.

 

Q&A with TCP’s Brian Catlett:

Brian Catlett, Chief Executive Officer at TCP Lighting

lightED: Has the explosion of the lighting market in recent years surpassed your expectations?

We believe that the introduction of LEDs has really expanded the possibilities in the lighting market which has furthered opportunities for growth. The expectations have changed for what you can do with light which has really started to define new subsets within lighting that have spurred growth in the market.

lightED: What will be the key drivers in the US lighting market in the near-term (between now and 2020)?

Catlett: We think that both integrated luminaries and intelligent lighting solutions will continue to grow and drive the lighting market.

lightED: What does the future hold for light and connectivity?

Catlett: We have just hit the tip of the iceberg when it comes to light and connectivity. When you think of light being powered and virtually everywhere and it is the perfect beacon to expand connectivity and add intelligent operations to make us more efficient.

lightED: How will distributors play a role in the future of lighting sales?

Catlett: Distributors will be the knowledge holders aiding buyer’s with the best choices to meet their specific needs. The days of buyers just looking to replace the halogen or fluorescent from their local distributor are rapidly fading away. Distributors will need to ensure they are up to date on technology and will look more like a SaaS sales person of today.

lightED: How can distributors build a stronger relationship with designers and contractors to use the best light in the correct situations?

Catlett: Distributors will need to work closely with manufacturers to ensure they are providing more than the best light for the situations. It is getting to a point where quality light is assumed, but additional features and functionality to enhance the building’s aesthetic are becoming the driving force. Distributors will need to work closely with them, providing the designer with the look they are striving to achieve along with a reliable product that has all the functionality the contractor requires.

lightED: How will price impact the future of lighting?

Catlett: When looking just at screw-in bulbs, price has had a major impact on adoption as people initially struggled to pay significantly more for a truly superior product. I believe that lighting is at a interesting transitional point where you have a set of buyers only looking for the most affordable way to get lumens on the floor and a different set that just assumes proper light levels and is willing to pay more for additional features, functionality and aesthetic. As the expectation changes to the latter buyer, it will be interesting to see how the initial price impacts the sale and if the value transitions to ongoing service agreements.

lightED: What do you think the capabilities of light may one day become?

Catlett: I believe that light will become more than just lumens on the floor, but the centerpiece for all connectivity and everything that the digitization of lighting has to offer.

 

 

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