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Better Together: The Fight for Knowledge Over Laws

Better Together: The Fight for Knowledge Over Laws

tED magazine is launching a new series of stories that are completely the work of our past “30 Under 35” winners.  We are calling this series of articles “Better Together.”  Past “30 Under 35” winners came up with the topic, and then they wrote the articles. Instead of doing traditional interviews and taking small parts of what they said for our stories, “Better Together” allows the next generation in our supply chain the opportunity to let you know how they see the industry in the future, how they see it taking shape right now, and what they would like to see happen so it remains strong and vital throughout their generation.

This article comes from Kyle Leighton, 2013 tED magazine 30 Under 35 winner.

In 2014, I made a trip from Michigan to Washington, D.C. with two colleagues from a commercial lighting manufacturer in an effort to present the Department of Energy the benefits of Induction lighting technology, for a couple of different applications including street lighting.  We left the meeting with a few business cards, some phone numbers, and nothing else.  That was the beginning and the end of my work with the Energy Cabinet of the United States government.  No one in the meeting wanted to hear about anything other than LED lighting technology.  The US Department of Energy was a dead end.  Why?  Because the people “in charge” believed that LED lighting was the superior lighting technology and that the federal government had to purchase LED lighting whether or not competing technologies were the worthier choice for an application.

We were too late to the party.

While this absentminded position disregarded product efficiency, it was the way that it was because the wheels for LED were already set in motion and the law for it, as law is defined, was established.

In 2013, the US Department of Energy and The Municipal Solid State Street Lighting Consortium (MSSLC) were aggressively promoting LED street lighting to municipalities. Edward Smalley, the Director of the MSSLC, was hosting events with various municipalities while the program resolution was sponsored by Mayors Mike Bloomberg (New York City), Antonio Villaraigosa (Los Angeles), and Francis G. Slay (St. Louis).

And, on the Energy.gov‘s website, financing for new street lighting was newly available to municipalities under the condition that they exclusively purchased LED street lights.

In January of 2015, LEDs Magazine reported that President Obama called for 1.5 million street light poles to be retrofitted with LED lighting by May of 2016.   This decision was part of a program being administered by the US Department of Energy under the Better Buildings program aptly titled “Presidential Challenge for Outdoor Lighting.”

Maury Wright, editor in chief of LEDs Magazine, also wrote that:
“The DOE will assist the participants (municipalities) in selecting solid-state lighting (SSL) technology that meets the local needs. The program will focus on networked lighting where indicated by the application. And the DOE will assist the participants in finding funding for LED street light retrofit projects.”

To this day, financing is not available for any other street lighting technology through the Department of Energy.

Now, three years later, there are problems…

The MSSLC has stated on energy.gov that:

  • Solid State Lighting streetlights are still a relatively new development and have no long-term operating history. Therefore, substantial risk exists for making large-scale mistakes with products that are not up to the mark in terms of performance, or expected durability/lifetime in a real-world environment.
  • New products arrive on the market almost daily, a rate that is difficult to keep up with. Street lighting managers and other personnel are deluged with claims of product performance that they have no practical way of evaluating, given their unfamiliarity with the various characteristics of LEDs that are relevant to their performance.

Imagine that.

For the record, induction technology has been around for 126 years, has the exact same benefits that LED does, is easier to maintain and costs less. But, I’m not writing this article to make a case for induction.  What’s done is done.

I’m writing this article to prove a point about our industry and how we can shape, and succeed in it.

Across the electrical industry, there have been various accounts of utilities, local governments, purchasing departments, and other organizations acting in a similar fashion and shortchanging preferred technology or products for alternative ones based on faulty reasoning or beliefs.  And it’s moving our industry forward in a negative way.  If manufacturers develop and design industry-leading, energy-efficient products, and market demand shifts to inefficient, costly products, where will that road lead the industry?  Well, it won’t take it anywhere and the industry will shrink. Companies and organizations will downsize, some may close, and industry professionals will spend much of their time convincing customers to buy the wrong products to keep sales up because the market will be oversaturated with ignorance.

Knowledge and law are the two factors that will move our industry in any given direction. One is dictated by choice, while the other is by force, and in some cases, it’s both.  But, more times than not, consumer decisions are driven by one or the other. 

As we understand it, law is defined as the system of rules that a particular country or community recognizes as regulating the actions of its members and may enforce by the imposition of penalties.

In the case of the DOE and their LED decisions, the DOE didn’t have to have an Act of Congress to force municipalities to purchase LED lighting technology, or face consequences.  The DOE believed that LED technology was the superior technology; therefore, a lack of funding for any alternative technology is the implied consequences, which meant that the implementation of LED technology into U.S. municipalities is, as we understand it, established by law. If local government fell in line, it would also be likely that the trend would continue amongst private organizations.

Knowledge, as we understand it, is defined as facts, information, and skills acquired by a person through experience or education; the theoretical or practical understanding of a subject.

Based on the DOE’s actions, I assumed that there was a strong lack of knowledge in the commercial lighting arena, and unfortunately, it was reinforced by their actions.  The reason for the lack of knowledge is unknown, and maybe Edward Smalley could explain to me how he arrived to the conclusions he arrived to at some point later in life. Or, maybe not.

Regardless, I continued to focus on what I knew and what I believed this industry to be.  And, I believe that the electrical industry is an industry of knowledge, and an industry of sciences, innovations, and contraptions and gizmos. Knowledge is who we are.  Our novelty does not wear off, and the originality of the industry is always taking one step forward.

That being said, the future of the electrical industry depends on which comes first; our knowledge or our laws.  And, it is our responsibility to insist that knowledge wins that match-up every time because laws will inevitably be established.  During that process, we must ensure that they are established with the correct guidance and information so that the industry can continue to focus on products that matter, products that are more efficient, and products that can be competitively priced.

If we do not, our industry will become an industry of commodities.

And, within an industry of commodities exist untested technology, big government, and cheap prices. And eventually, the electrical industry will become what the LED industry is now…

Kyle Leighton, Assoc. IES, is a marketing professional, author, and adjunct professor based in New York, NY that contributes to several electrical industry leading publications. Leighton holds an Associate Degree of Arts from Jackson College, and a B.A. in Professional Communication from Siena Heights University.

This topic, along with many others, will be discussed during the roundtable discussions and panel session at the upcoming NAED LEAD Conference in Chicago on July 20-22. We strongly recommend you send your young, up-and-coming stars to this year’s conference. You can register by clicking here.


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