Below is my contribution to the December issue of tED Magazine, the official publication of the NAED. Reprinted with permission.

The lighting industry is undergoing a dramatic transformation driven by adoption of LED lighting and lighting controls. This demand in turn is feeding emerging trends including connectivity, spectral tuning, circadian lighting and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), all of which may create opportunities for educated electrical distributors. It’s also fueling threats such as new channels of distribution, a bewildering amount of products and information to stay up to date on, and gloomy prospects for lamp replacement sales.

To get an idea of where these trends are going, tED’s Craig DiLouie, LC talked to five thought leaders in the lighting industry.

DiLouie: The lighting industry has made remarkable progress on LED product development in the last five years, such as connectivity, white light tuning, smaller luminaires and more. More work needs to be done, however, in regards to issues such as flicker and color. What are the major technical trends in lighting, and what problems and opportunities will they address?

James Brodrick: Despite the rapid advances that have been made in solid-state lighting (SSL), there’s widespread agreement that significant development headroom remains. Continued innovation and breakthroughs in materials, processes, product designs, control systems and manufacturing are needed to realize the technology’s full energy- and carbon-saving potential, nearly 95 percent of which remains untapped. Most high-performing LED luminaires produce 125-135 lm/W, but 200 lm/W is achievable.

We’re just beginning to see what’s possible with this technology, which has enabled the emergence of spectral tuning, new form factors, and other innovations that are just as exciting. One of the hottest areas of SSL is connected lighting. The convergence of SSL with the Internet of Things, smartphones and apps, and low-cost sensors is expected to facilitate an unprecedented exchange of data among lighting and other building systems, other devices, and the Internet. Developing connected lighting products will help leverage this opportunity, as SSL rapidly replaces conventional incumbents. Lighting control has the potential to deliver significant energy savings by adjusting the amount of light to real-time needs.

Organic LEDs (OLEDs) have similar energy-saving potential to LEDs but offer a number of unique advantages that could make for a whole new lighting experience. For example, OLEDs can be configured as larger-area, more-diffuse light sources; can be deposited on flexible substrates and take on almost any shape; and can be transparent. If OLED lighting can overcome the barriers it still faces—first and foremost being cost—it can become an energy-saving complement to LED lighting.

James Brodrick is the lighting program manager for the U.S. Department of Energy, Building Technologies Office.

DiLouie: The big lamp manufacturers no longer dominate the lighting industry. Numerous new companies are introducing products, and some of them are selling direct online. What impact is this democratization of lighting having on the industry and distribution? What do you predict the industry will look like in the future in terms of how products get made and sold to end-users?

Kevin Willmorth: The portion of the market most impacting the three large lamp suppliers is the retrofit lamp business. Conventional lamp providers are now competing with a large number of Asian imports sold under a large number of brand names. Online sales and specialty market distributors—combined with big-box retailers, Batteries + Bulbs and other energy-efficiency-focused distributors offering LED retrofits are now competing for this business against conventional distribution.

Since most new construction does not employ retrofit lamps, the movement away from light bulbs to integrated products is changing the character of the distribution business. Further, large retrofit project work is often completed by specialty solutions providers, which have direct relationships with the product providers they need to optimize profit. As the retrofit business subsides and is replaced with more comprehensive refitting to new integrated solid-state products with greater controls functionality, the balance will tip toward involvement of licensed electrical contractor entities who will look to distributors for the product they need, as they have in the past.

However, it is also likely that product manufacturers now offering retrofit lamp products will respond to the shift toward full luminaire refitting, by deploying solutions that will be sold through the same relationships they cultivated when selling lamps alone. Further, controls sophistication requires knowledgeable suppliers who can solve integration issues quickly.

Distributors that embrace the retrofit lamp business, while staying current with providers of integrated luminaires and controls offerings, with competitive pricing to competing alternative channels, will fare best.

Kevin Willmorth is principal of Lumenique.

DiLouie: LED lighting is being called the “Trojan Horse” of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). However, the concept of the IIoT remains largely a buzzword, at least in terms of creating systems that tie together systems. Where are we now in the development of the IIoT, and what needs to happen? What role will lighting and lighting practitioners, including electrical distributors, play in its deployment and management?

Clifton Stanley Lemon: Industrial IoT has been around for quite some time. What’s new is that it’s making its way out of industrial spaces into retail, commercial, institutional and to a lesser degree residential spaces—hence the “Trojan Horse” meme. Historically, technologies usually unexpectedly evolve from one original intended use to another, or several very different ones, and create the most significant transformations when combined and connected.

The future role of lighting practitioners is particularly fraught—we shouldn’t jump to conclusions and make long term decisions based on untested assumptions. AI [artificial intelligence] could potentially take over controls and building operations, and to facilities and maintenance people this just looks like even more stuff that will fail. Building controls will almost certainly get considerably more complex, so that normal people can’t even operate them—this to me is not a particularly desirable consequence of technology, but it may be unavoidable. Will truly adaptive “intelligent” environments really feel better and save more energy? It’s hard to tell, but lighting people can and should have a lot to do with this future.

IoT is not yet used to its full potential to measure and drive lighting performance. IoT systems living on the lighting grid are mostly based on IR sensors and measure things like occupant movement, which does give us useful data. But lighting specialists need to use IoT to integrate data about behavior and lighting performance in the service of better lighting. We understand behavior and emotion intuitively much better than IT or other building service professionals. However roles evolve, lighting people should reassess their core strengths and focus on lighting for people, not just highly efficient but overly complex systems.

Clifton Stanley Lemon is founder of Clifton Lemon Associates.

DiLouie: Lighting and health is becoming a more important issue in the lighting industry. How close are we to actionable templates for various applications or industries, and what needs to be done before this is possible? Will the driver be health regulation or guidelines, or will it come from concerned end-users? What is the most likely driver to get the ball rolling?

Mariana Figueiro: I believe that we are actually witnessing a tipping point in the way lighting is designed, manufactured and applied in living and working environments, due to several factors: public demand, research, manufacturer innovation and metrics.

In recent years, there has been an evolution in the public’s perception of light and the benefits they expect to receive from it, most notably in the realm of light and health. At the same time, in the research community, much has been learned over the past decade about the impact of light on circadian rhythms. Lighting manufacturers are developing compelling new products that target the value benefits of health and wellbeing, which also drives public demand. The U.S. General Services Administration is considering adopting metrics that will promote the use of healthy lighting in all of their federal buildings.

Still, regulations are slow to be adopted and will likely be the pull not the push. The push will come from owners and end-users. While we need to better understand individual differences in the response to light and show the health benefits of lighting in field applications, we don’t need to wait until we know it all. For example, we know enough to start using light to improve the lives of those living in more controlled environments, such as people with Alzheimer’s disease. Rather than “do no harm” and wait until standard setting bodies agree on new metrics or guidelines, lighting professionals can begin now to apply current research knowledge to help people live better.

Mariana Figueiro, PhD, professor and Light & Health Program Director at the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

DiLouie: What role does education play as an agent of change in the lighting industry? Some have warned that adoption of LED lighting, particularly connected LED lighting, is threatened by a looming skills shortage. Do you agree, and if so, what is the lighting industry doing to address the need? What more should the industry do?

Mark Lien: The lighting industry is educated primarily by manufacturers. They have the deep pockets to fund training centers as well as presenters on the speaking circuit. Progressive utility companies and various conferences also offer classes and a few academic institutions teach specific skill-focused courses. The attendance in numbers to these pales to what is claimed by the manufacturer-based centers (typically four to nine thousand annually per center).

Knowledge is power and can act as an agent of change. The SSL revolution forced us to learn new skills and to pursue ongoing education to stay relevant. Educators had to retrain and rewrite their content. Everyone in the lighting community now requires constantly updated information about changes to standards, trends and technologies. The value of this education is increasing but conversely quality providers are decreasing. When I started teaching at one of the manufacturer centers, we had 10 full time staff dedicated to facilitating and educating attendees. There was an emphasis on CEU non-commercial sessions mixed in with training. I am not aware of any manufacturer-based center with even half of that staff level now. Many bring in employees from various product divisions to train attendees rather than provide dedicated instructors. Full-time educators cultivate effectiveness skills that occasional trainers lack.

As lighting evolves, complexity increases. It is difficult to find individuals that can teach on multiple complex topics. SSL revealed this concern but IoT will force further stratification. The lighting generalist will become a unicorn. To effectively educate will require dedicated, knowledgeable educators. Online training will help once the inherent weaknesses of personal engagement, attentiveness and verification of effectiveness are addressed.

The IES just hired a full-time director of education. Our members reflect the breadth of our lighting community, and the need for us to step up our educational support is critical. Some manufacturers still have the potential to deliver strong educational content, but it will require differentiating between educators and trainers, and providing a balance of both. There is a risk to entering into the IoT without a well-educated lighting community. If we do not provide a clear value proposition, we could potentially face assimilation into the telecoms, electronics and Internet companies rather than evolving into a more progressive industry.

Mark Lien is industry relations manager for the Illuminating Engineering Society.