Who is responsible for the greenhouse gases wreaking havoc on our environment?
Whales. And Thomas Edison.
When Edison was inventing the light bulb, he chose components and design conventions that would allow the incandescent light bulb to mimic the color and quality of existing lights, said Don Peifer, the co-founder of LED fixture maker Lunera. (Before Lunera, he served as a lighting designer for Annie Leibovitz, among others.)
“It harkens back to the primordial flame,” he said in a meeting at the company’s offices.
Edison’s bulb changed the world, but the incandescent bulb is also somewhat inefficient: 95 percent of its power goes to heat, not light. The color of incandescent light, though, remains highly popular with consumers and is one of the reasons solid state lighting has yet to fully take off.
You’ll be hearing a lot about solid state lighting and Edison this week. LightFair, the industry’s annual confab, is taking place in Philadelphia. A few years ago, the show was mostly populated by lighting contractors, distributors and the eccentrics that the lighting industry seems to attract.
Now, it’s dominated by contractors, distributors and eccentrics being chased by investors and REITs trying to find out what the next big thing is. So what’s on tap?
--The Looming War in Lighting Networks. In the past few years, we’ve touted companies like Redwood, Daintree Networks, Adura and Lumenergi because they make technology that can let facilities managers dim lights remotely and harvest daylight.
But technological changes may make add-on networking obsolete, particularly in standard commercial buildings or homes. Some companies have begun to produce fixtures with localized motion and light sensors. If you leave your desk, the light dims. If the sun starts to go down, it turns itself up. The light does everything a networked light does but it doesn’t have to communicate with anyone else. Less overhead means less cost. (Francis Rubenstein at Lawrence Berkeley Lab is currently conducting on a demonstration pilot with the DOE on autonomous lights.)
Some companies will also show off fixtures with workable, but less robust, networking than the communications capabilities based around things like the 0-to-10 standard. Although not as granular, these other technologies have the advantage of being free.
Lighting Science is working with Google to integrate networking into a bulb that communicates with Android phones. Who needs third-party products at that point? If autonomy and inexpensive integrated networking take hold, this trend could end before it begins.
--Demand Response Links to Lights. But there is one thing you can’t get with “good enough” networking and autonomous lights: money and rebates for curbing your lights. Without a network, you can’t measure savings.
Digital Lumens, which makes a networked LED light for warehouses, has joined the OpenADR Alliance. Here’s a video of Lumens’ light at work. We predicted last year that light makers would begin to forge tighter links with demand response companies: well, fancy that!
The conflicts between the network workarounds and the ability of networking companies to bake value into their products -- like Redwood using its tech to monitor consumer behavior in grocery stores -- have just started to emerge. However, this will become a big issue over the next two years.
--DC Power. LEDs run on DC power, just like computers and electric motors. Because power coming from the grid is AC, it has to be converted (via a power supply) into DC in order for the lights to go on. While some companies put power supplies on every LED light fixture, many are trying to get customers to adopt centralized DC converters to save money.
Redwood Systems is a big advocate of this approach. So is the E-Merge Alliance, which counts Armstrong World Industries, Johnson Controls and Nextek Power Systems among its members. E-Merge has already rigged a Whole Foods in Berkeley to run directly off solar panels, which produce DC power. No inverter or power converter required. E-Merge will soon make an announcement.
--The Battle for the Office. Cree will focus on the Cree CR series at the show, a set of LED ceiling lights that will replace fluorescents. Commercial indoor lighting is a $6.4 billion business, says Cree VP Gary Trott.
The LEDs do not point down. Instead, Cree points them up. The light bounces off a surface and washes the room with soft light. The light design and heat sink are somewhat novel.
Meanwhile, General Electric will license technology from Rambus to make ceiling lights that rely on what you could call plastic optics. LEDs are directed into a sheet of plastic carved up with waveguides. These waveguides in turn precisely dole out light. The underlying technology comes from telecom. Lunera, which counts Google and Apple as customers, exploits similar concepts.
--Plasma Is Not Dead. Plasma lights are tiny glass capsules about the size of a breath mint that put out as much light as a street lamp. Luxim has promoted them for years. Eden Park has tried to bring plasmas to homes. Still, they remain a niche product.
Topanga Technologies, which has a Luxim-like light, though, has just raised another $15 million. This third round was lead by an unnamed strategic investor from Asia. Khosla Ventures and Nth Power kicked in more, too.
--OLED Kicking Too. Acuity allegedly will unfurl an OLED for home. Stay tuned.
--Illumitex will show off new versions of its freakishly interesting bulb that gives off a square beam. It will come in colors too, for that retro Swingin' '60s look.
--Liquids. Switch will have its liquid bulb on display. Lighting Science will show off a bulb cooled with liquid too. Filling the dome with liquid allows heat to dissipate more evenly, and thereby eliminates costly components.
--The Forever Retrofit. Here's one more great thing about LEDs. Once you retrofit a building to accommodate them, you can just replace the light units as they improve over time without undergoing a major overhaul. Bridgelux pioneered the snap-in concept. Expect more to follow.
And one last thing: below is a video of Tom Quinn, who runs marketing at Lunera, talking about his company’s products.