In Lunera's light fixture, the light doesn't go straight down. It goes sideways first.
The company – a somewhat stealthy startup that plans on having its coming out party at the green construction extravaganza GreenBuild next month – hopes to capitalize on two of the perceived shortcomings of solid-state lighting with a new type of LED fixture for commercial buildings that in many ways is similar to new, upscale LCD TVs from Samsung and Sony.
The light-emitting diodes in the fixture are not placed at the center of the light fixture and aimed straight into a room. Instead, the LEDs are located at the edge of the fixtures. The light effectively runs parallel to the ceiling initially. It then gets channeled through wave guides and into a room. Although the use of wave guides might make you think the company emerged from the telecommunications field, it was started by people who worked for fashion photographers.
The indirect lighting technique eliminates glare and hot spots, according to CEO Mike Lesyna, one of the chronic complaints with LED lights. Light quality is also one of the touted benefits of edge lighting in edge-lit TVs.
"You would view ours as a sheet of light," he said. "The trick is putting 100 or 1,000 in a ceiling had have them look all the same."
Lunera will hit the market with two light fixtures: one measuring two feet by two feet which can replace ceiling tile-style lights and a pendant light that measures six inches by four feet. In the pendant light, all of the LEDs are actually located on one side, but consumers have a difficult time telling which side the lights are located on because how effectively the waveguides can wash the light.
Second, edge lighting helps ameliorate the problem of heat dissipation. The light from LEDs does not generate heat, one of the differences between LEDs and incandescent lamps. LEDs, though, are chips and heat comes off of the back, which is why LEDs bulbs come with hulking aluminum heat sinks.
Lunera puts more LEDs into its fixture than normal but then runs them at low intensity. This leads to better light quality as well as less heat and a longer life span for the product.
"We are running well below maximum," he said. "You can distribute light better that way."
The fixture meanwhile measures about three-fourths of an inch thick. It could be integrated into a ceiling or arguably, at least, be installed in a way that's more aesthetically pleasing than most lights. By contrast, typically LED lamps or conventional tube fluorescent lamps are a few inches thick.
Although more expensive than fluorescent fixtures, Lunera's fixtures can be paid off in lower maintenance (i.e., changing bulbs) and lower electricity demands in two to three years, he said. That fits into the payback periods other LED proponents have suggested with one-third to one-half of the savings coming from a reduction in the number of times the janitor has to get up on a ladder and replace bulbs. Although it will take a few years for LEDs to make it to homes, the conversion is starting to occur at high-end retail outlets, hotels and LEED-certified buildings. The shift in part is due to technical improvements, the cost-savings that can be achieved when maintenance is added, and new policies.
As prices drop, consumers and businesses may also begin to gravitate toward LEDs because of the known, but often ignored, problems with fluorescents.
"The flickering, the spectrum of light, the buzzing," Lesyna said. "Fluorescents took a great leap forward from incandescents in reducing energy but they sacrificed on quality."
While a lot of the early investment went into chip makers like Luminus Devices and Bridgelux, there's been an uptick of activity for fixture manufacturers like Lunera, Albeo and Renaissance Lighting. Lunera buys chips from companies like Nichia, but designs the circuit boards and other components that go into making a complete fixture. LEDs can last for ten years: because that eliminates the need for a replacement market, manufacturers like Philips have become interested in delivering the whole solution to customers. Philips in fact bought a fixture manufacturer earlier this year.
For more, here is a road map to the coming changes in lighting.
A very small, but likely probable, trend toward employing DC wiring in some buildings could lead to even further power reduction. Again, it will take time, but you can imagine solar-powered houses employing DC wiring for certain applications. Panasonic and Sharp are already concocting strategies.
The company has about 30 customers with one that has bought about 500 fixtures. Nativas Capital, which specializes in green building investments, and the Westly Group have both invested in the company.