I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Andy Miles, Director of Product Marketing, Outdoor Lighting for Hubbell Lighting. The topic: trends in outdoor area lighting. I’m happy to share her responses with you here. The interview informed an article I wrote for the April 2017 issue of tED Magazine.

DiLouie: What are the top trends in the area lighting market?

Miles: Within the outdoor lighting market in general, we’re seeing LED color temperature preferences trending warmer, a higher demand for lighting that adapts to occupancy detection and the changing needs of the client. Customers are becoming more concerned with visual comfort expressed as a desire to eliminate LED “pixilation” (the visibility of discrete LEDs) and brightness particularly for luminaires installed at lower mounting heights.

With respect to color temperature, 3000K and 4000K color temperature demand was generally limited to more architectural applications; however, with the efficacy penalty of warmer color temperature LEDs becoming less impactful, many customers in our commercial markets previously selecting 5000K LEDs are now opting for 4000K.

Energy efficiency codes are an obvious driver for the increased use of adaptive lighting, including occupancy/vacancy controlled dimming with California’s Title 24 being a great example, but end customers beyond California not yet impacted by stringent energy codes are increasingly expecting a higher degree of lighting control. Although they may not change the lighting system’s operating schedule on a nightly basis, they want the flexibility to do so or, at a minimum, have the ability to add a future date (i.e. future-proof).

LED luminaire visual comfort (brightness/glare control) and the resulting push to eliminate LED pixilation is an interesting trend particularly from the perspective of a luminaire manufacturer. Glare and brightness are subjective measurements and simply eliminating LED pixilation doesn’t mean the luminaire is suddenly “low glare” or comfortable to look at. While the benefits of an LED optical design that’s “comfortable” seems obvious, in most cases it comes at the cost of lower light level uniformity, decreased luminaire spacing and potentially higher energy costs.

DiLouie: How are these trends shaping demand for outdoor lighting products?

Miles: One area that’s impacted greatly is how we service customer demand and the resulting products we stock for immediate shipment. Ultimately we see higher degrees of product variability. For example, ten years ago our service strategy for commercial wallpacks was to stock the most common metal halide and high pressure lamp units with a refractor lens and a few cutoff versions. Today that same market demands product to be available with and without uplight, 4000K and 5000K CCTs, photocontrol options, motion sensor options and integral batteries for emergency egress.

DiLouie: Generally speaking, how are these trends shaping design of outdoor lighting products?

Miles: Accommodating trends like color temperature preferences are relatively simple; however, accommodating the vast array of lighting control systems and new LED chip technology becomes much more difficult. There are so many great technologies available, accommodating everything isn’t always possible. We look to “future proof” our products as much as possible, knowing a better solution is coming soon. The reality is our product life cycles are much shorter in today’s market, which means our designs change, too.

DiLouie: Energy codes are increasingly requiring bilevel control for dusk-to-dawn lighting. How is this affecting demand for controllable outdoor lighting? How much is bleeding into the retrofit market?

Miles: The demand for controls is increasing. Today we include the same level of bi-level or full dimming control as an option in just about every product we design. For the retrofit market it’s almost mandatory. Many utility rebate programs offer larger incentives for luminaires with a control to improve the customer’s ROI and further reduce energy consumption.

DiLouie: Several years ago, NEMA introduced a new standard control receptacle allowing new controls to be connected using a standard interface. What opportunities does this create for outdoor lighting? What implications does it have for the retrofit market? What implications does it have for smart cities?

Miles: Incorporating the ANSI C136.41 receptacle into outdoor lighting gives just about everyone significantly more flexibility with regards to integrating controls, whether it is today or in the future. Fully integrated control systems offer an aesthetic advantage and can lower the initial acquisition cost but also “locks” the contractor or end user into one standard. The ANSI C136.41 design positions the control equipment outside the luminaire, simplifying maintenance and allowing luminaire selection and maintenance to occur independent of the control selection.

DiLouie: Several years ago, the Model Lighting Ordinance was introduced, allowing municipalities to enact sensible outdoor lighting laws. How extensive has adoption been? How have lighting ordinances affected outdoor lighting product design and demand? What implications does it have for the retrofit market?

Miles: It’s important to remember lighting is both a science and an art. Attempts to assign every space and luminaire into a prescribed “formula” that guarantees success is an oversimplification of a complicated subject and ignores the artistic element of lighting. For example, a landscape architect who focuses on urban streetscapes and areas of public congregation told me the city where he lives had to re-write its lighting ordinance to allow a one-time exception to install the type of lighting the city planners preferred for the downtown space.

DiLouie: What protocols are used for wireless communication for outdoor lighting? What are the pros and cons of each?

Miles: For outdoor lighting, the primary protocols used for wireless communication are Zigbee and SNAP (Synapse Network Appliance Protocol). Both protocols provide a peer-to-peer, self-organizing and self-healing mesh network of devices. The major difference between the two protocols is the wireless radio frequency that they use. Zigbee devices typically use 2.4 GHz radios and SNAP devices use 900 MHz radios. Generally speaking 900 MHz systems have greater propagation (the signal’s ability to reach its intended target through items like trees and rain, get-around buildings, etc.) whereas 2.4 GHz systems can transmit more data. For most users, though, the wireless network frequency likely won’t be a significant concern. While propagation is important, most 2.4 GHz systems likely meet the user’s needs and while the ability to transmit more data sounds important, lighting control schedules, retrieving metering data and reporting don’t contain more than what a 900 MHz system can easily handle.

DiLouie: There’s a lot for electrical distributors to navigate when it comes to outdoor lighting. When recommending a solution, what should distributors be looking for?

Miles: At a bare minimum, ensure a product’s marketing claims can be substantiated with industry standard performance data and test reports. Check the LM79, LM80, TM21 calculations, etc. Doing your due diligence will ensure you’ve partnered with a manufacturer that will deliver on its promises.While the benefits of LED sourced products are significant, selecting the wrong product for the application, premature failures or installing a product that doesn’t perform as advertised won’t only be financially costly but will damage your reputation as a trusted advisor.

DiLouie: What can distributors do to ensure they are most competitive in the outdoor lighting market?

Miles: Invest in your people with lighting education and hire a lighting specialist. The technology is evolving quickly and the market opportunity is tremendous. Be sure the “generalists” in your business can identify opportunities, then bring in your “specialists,” which include your manufacturer partners. The lighting specialists will get into the details, help specify the correct product for the application and ensure your customers’ needs are met.

DiLouie: If you could tell all electrical distributors just one thing about today’s market for LED outdoor lighting, what would it be?

Miles: With just a few exceptions, if your customers haven’t started using LED sourced products outdoors they are likely costing themselves more money in the long run. LED product costs are at an all-time low and performance is at an all-time high.