This post was written by Keith Dawson for UBM Tech’s community Web site All LED Lighting, sponsored by Philips Lumileds. It is archived here because the All LED Lighting site has gone dark. This material is Copyright 2013-2015 by UBM Americas.

2013-10-30

Controls Freak

Controls for LED lighting are one obvious way to reap value downstream in the ecosystem.

We heard this message, with different emphases, from speaker after speaker at the

  • LEDs and the SSL Ecosystem 2013 conference in Boston.

    Dan Ryan of ByteLight provided some historical context from the computer industry for the "

  • value will increasingly be found downstream" message. He identified five eras in the development of computing, in which value creation moved steadily downstream. First, the era of components -- roughly the 1960s and 1970s -- starred the likes of Fairchild and Intel. The systems era, 1980s, featured Dell, Gateway, and NeXT. The software era, 1990s plus-or-minus, was dominated by Microsoft and Oracle and their ilk. For the services era, 1990s into 2000s, look to IBM and Red Hat. Finally, the era of data, 2000s to present, is represented by Google and Facebook.

    SSL lighting with ubiquitous controls may be analogous to the services era. And once we start deploying sensors widely on LED lights, the era of data will be upon us.


    Brian Chemel, CTO of Digital Lumens. (Photo: Digital Lumens)

    Boston-based Digital Lumens showed up a few times at the conference. Their tagline is "making every light intelligent." The company's wirelessly controlled lights were used in a 2012 retrofit project for the Associated Grocers of New England, for their warehouse in New Hampshire. The project achieved around 90 percent savings over the previous fluorescent regime -- 50 percent from energy savings and another 40 percent from occupancy sensing and just-in-time lighting.

    On the panel with Digital Lumens, the design house, and two folks from AGNE was a representative of Public Service Company of New Hampshire. PSNH orchestrated a utility rebate for the project. What I found interesting is that the PSNH rep said that the project was the first they had seen utilizing lighting controls. So we're just a bit over a year into this next phase of SSL's evolution.

    The view from money
    A panel of three investment bankers and venture capitalists added more emphasis to the "go downstream" message. The three money men represented a total of $3.1 billion invested in clean technology, much of it in lighting. Neil Cameron of Emerald Technology Ventures said he couldn't see how an upstream infrastructure play like a new attack on GaN-on-Si could possibly work now. Dennis Costello of Braemar Energy Ventures identified the trend that VC money is seeking less capital-intensive investments of late: downstream. Rob Day of Black Coral Capital, an investor in Digital Lumens, predicted the day when "everything in the building will be networked," and some current devices will start to look redundant -- thermostats, for example, because a temperature sensor can be anywhere. Lighting will become more central, according to Day, because it's the one thing that can't be replaced functionally.

    As the VCs discussed controls from the stage, Costello said "I don't know how controls are going to infiltrate the ecosystem." Day replied that it will happen because controls will simply be built into every lamp and luminaire and piece of the architecture that lights up. It will be expected, and customers aren't going to want to pay extra for controls.

    It is ubiquitous controls and sensors that are going to usher in the era of big data from our lighting fixtures, and from our built environment generally.

    — Keith Dawson Circle me on Google+ Follow me on Twitter Visit my LinkedIn page, Editor-in-Chief, All LED Lighting

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