Interview with Hubbell’s Martin Werr on LED Trends

I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Martin Werr, Director of Product Innovation, Hubbell Lighting. The topic: trends in indoor luminaire design. I’m happy to share his responses with you here. The interview informed an article I wrote for the October 2016 issue of tED.

DiLouie: How would you characterize demand for LED luminaires in indoor commercial building applications in the new construction market? What is current market share in the new commercial building construction market for indoor LED luminaires? What are the hottest applications for sales?

Werr: LED lighting in the indoor new construction market has been a steep growth trajectory for the past four years, finally reaching the point where LED products now account for a larger share of the market than legacy technologies. There are effectively no remaining untapped areas where LED technology is not widely accepted and embraced.

DiLouie: How would you characterize demand for LED luminaires in indoor commercial building applications in the lighting retrofit market? In your estimation, what percentage of retrofit projects involves luminaire replacement with LED luminaires versus changing out the lamp to a new light source? What are the hottest applications for sales?

Werr: While most retrofit applications involve new luminaires, a significant percentage of customers accept half-measures through the use of LED replacement lamps in an effort to mitigate first costs. Typically, however, these result in less-than-ideal performance compromises. One exception can be luminaire retrofit kits that can provide state-of-the-art LEDs and drivers that perform as well as new lighting fixtures. Significant sales opportunities include warehouse and office relights, made even more attractive by utility rebates and closing the price gap between LED and legacy sources, particularly when dimming capability is factored in.

DiLouie: What are the most popular applications for LED luminaires in indoor applications?

Werr: The most attractive applications are, of course, those that deliver the greatest benefit per luminaire, pointing directly to warehouse high bay relight projects. Replacing HID—or even fluorescent—high bays with LED units can deliver extremely high wattage reduction per fixture. The second big opportunity is to replace the office lighting. Although the per unit wattage savings are lower than for high bays, the sheer quantity and ease of replacement makes for great ROI opportunities. Again, utility rebates can ease the labor cost impact, and the long lifespan of LEDs can reduce maintenance costs.

DiLouie: What are the top 3-5 trends in indoor LED luminaire design today?

Werr: The single biggest trend is the inclusion of dimming capability as an integral and expected function of nearly all LED luminaires—once a luxury upcharge for fluorescent and impossible for HID. Those in the market would be wise to choose a manufacturer that offers products with dimming capability at no additional cost. An additional benefit that comes along with standard dimming capability is the trend toward “smart sensing” in which each fixture may have integral occupancy/vacancy sensing, daylight harvesting or both, which maximizes energy conservation fixture by fixture. Those in the market can find fixtures that offers these options at a modest premium. Another trend is the ease through which lighting specifiers can select the lumen and wattage packages most appropriate for their projects. We offer our customers the ability to select light output levels in increments as fine as 50 lumens.

DiLouie: What impact are these trends having on the market in terms of moving the ball forward, satisfying users, and exceeding current conventional lighting offerings?

Werr: The trends emerging via LED technologies permit specifiers, owners and occupants to control their lit environments with unprecedented precision, comfort and energy savings.

DiLouie: Where do you see these trends going in terms of future direction?

Werr: The more the market embraces the unique features afforded by LED luminaires, the less expensive those features become, leading to increasing acceleration of adoption.

DiLouie: What do you see as future trends in indoor LED luminaire design that will become possible as the technology continues to develop?

Werr: One lightly tapped potential enabled through solid state technology is the ability to provide customized spectra tuned to the specific needs of non-human biology. For example, we offer an LED product that optimizes horticultural illumination by emitting light only in wavelengths needed by the process of photosynthesis.

DiLouie: Please comment on the evolution of optics for indoor LED luminaires, giving particular focus on how optics have changed to accommodate the LED light source.

Werr: Precise optical design for many applications becomes more effective the smaller the source gets. LEDs, being as near to pure point sources as our industry has ever seen, present optical engineers with unprecedented ability

DiLouie: Please comment on the evolution and demand for indoor LED luminaires that feature serviceable components such as light engines, drivers, heat sinks and optics.

Werr: One unfortunate byproduct of the LED revolution has been the proliferation of “throwaway” luminaires that lack serviceable light engine components. Granted that certain specific applications make serviceability impractical, for most applications such as recessed troffers and high bays, specifiers and end users should insist on light engines, drivers and optics that can be replaced or upgraded from below. Despite the implication from some lower tier manufacturers, LEDs do not last forever, and even if they did, they are continuously improving in performance. Responsible manufacturers provide the ability to upgrade luminaires as more energy-efficient light engines become available.

DiLouie: Please comment on the evolution of form factors for indoor LED luminaires and viability of new form factors.

Werr: The most obvious impact on form factor for LED luminaires is the compact size of the light source. With small sources like LEDs, not only do they take up less physical space, but to achieve effective optical distribution, they reduce the distance needed between the source and light shaping elements such as refractors and reflectors. The small form factor of the LD, however, does not necessarily lead to smaller luminaires. Offsetting factors such as thermal mitigation, the ubiquitous 2’x2’ and 2’x4’ grid ceiling and the ongoing need to manage luminance to reduce glare imposes practical limits on the physical dimensions of luminaires.

DiLouie: What should distributors be doing right now to maximize the value they offer to their customers in lighting projects featuring LED products?

Werr: The first benefit distributors can offer in the LED revolution is in customer education. It is essential to become fluent not just in concepts like efficacy, CRI and CCT, but also in topics such as LM-79 and LM-80, TM-21 (reported vs. calculated) and MacAdam Ellipses to help dispel the widespread misunderstandings about the application of LED fixture.

DiLouie: If you could tell the entire electrical industry just one thing about trends in indoor LED luminaire design for commercial building applications, what would it be?

Werr: With steadily improving performance and falling cost of ownership, LED luminaires will all but displace incumbent technologies in a few years’ time, and a viable future usurper has yet to appear on the horizon.

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