Below is an article I wrote for the July issue of tED Magazine, the official publication of the NAED. Reprinted with permission.
Open ceilings, collaborative workspaces, microleasing, and unique designs that inspire occupants and reinforce brand are just some of the trends reshaping the modern office and driving innovative lighting designs.
“Say goodbye to the clear patterns of light throughout a space,” said Jerry Mix, President, Finelite. “Today’s demand is for tailored lighting determined by the architecture.”
The LED and subsequent intelligent control revolutions have supported these office trends. In the high end of the market, the desire to maximize the value of human value translates to a stronger focus on lighting solutions that support a personalized, productive space as well as foster collaboration.
“In the past, there was a stronger priority placed on creating a certain aesthetic and look independent of what the occupants needed,” said Gary Trott, VP Marketing, Intelligent Lighting, Cree, Inc. “Spaces may have been beautiful at a glance, but people may have disliked working in them. Now the balance has shifted so that while the space is still designed to look great, it is also designed to be an effective space where people can work collaboratively and comfortably.”
The key is control, both in the optical and electrical sense.
“The size of the office lighting segment has not seen much change in the last few years,” Mix said. “However, the demand for quality lighting is very strong.”
By quality lighting, he means designs that go beyond the traditional cookie cutter direct lighting layouts by embracing a layered lighting approach oriented toward visual comfort and optimal function. This may include direct/indirect lighting, integrated wall washing for vertical illumination, and supplemental task lighting for major work areas. The LED source has delivered compact form factors, flexible configurations, and the ability to precisely specify light output and distribution, enabling highly customized lighting designs. Meanwhile, LED performance and color quality have both improved, while costs have declined as the technology matures.
According to Trott, the biggest advance in LED lighting over the past few years has been controls being more integrated and approachable. Dimming, once requiring a special ballast and imposing a cost premium for fluorescent lighting, is typically standard or a standard option for LED. Connected lighting packages are now a common offering by luminaire manufacturers.
Connected intelligent lighting consists of luminaires able to communicate (connected) within a programmable (intelligent) system. The system may be luminaire-based, with all controls integrated into the luminaire; room-based, offering autonomous, out-of-the-box energy code compliance; or building-/enterprise-based, offering global programming, control, and data collection.
Connected lighting provides the opportunity to accelerate energy cost savings while enabling improved user experiences. According to the DesignLights Consortium, these systems can produce average lighting energy savings of 47 percent. They are the key to unlocking the possibilities of circadian lighting and the Internet of Things (IoT), both of which are developing as potentially transformative trends.
“Intelligent lighting is a very important trend,” Trott said. “In fact, we believe this trend is going to be larger than the LED revolution because LED lighting is the perfect platform for smart buildings.”
The IoT is a concept defining buildings in which systems are integrated, programmable, and providing measuring for business process improvement and monitoring for maintenance. With installation almost everywhere in a building, microprocessing, connectivity, bandwidth, and sensors, intelligent lighting is positioned as a strong candidate for serving as IoT infrastructure.
“Over the past three years, enabling the IoT with lighting has gone from a catchphrase to something real,” Trott said. “We see customers today who are utilizing the data captured by their intelligent lighting system to create value beyond lighting. Owners and operators have a better understanding of how their buildings are being used so they can better optimize the space. We’re at the beginning of this trend, and that’s a great place to be.”
He encouraged electrical distributors to familiarize themselves with connected lighting, adding, “Connected lighting and the IoT can be intimidating, but most people are already experiencing it on a daily basis through their smart phones. If you are not selecting an LED luminaire that can be connected and is IoT-enabled, any light you put in is obsolete from day one.”
An extension of the larger trend of integrated lighting control, color-tunable lighting is a developing trend that according to Trott is revolutionizing office lighting.
“In the past, lighting had very static conditions, only allowing people to switch between ON and OFF in one color,” he said. “Now that LED lighting is programmable across an entire enterprise, it has made color changing and dimming far more approachable, allowing for control in the level of illumination that is projected throughout the day.”
With tunable-white, users can adjust color temperature to preference or space need. General lighting color output can be programmed to match the color quality of external daylight conditions, a benefit for occupants working in spaces lacking windows. While these are currently the most significant applications for tunable-white lighting in office environments, color can also be programmed to be cooler in the morning and warmer in the evening to support circadian lighting strategies and promote alertness.
“We are seeing an interest in tunable lighting and controls,” Mix said. “People are starting to value the impact lighting has on supporting employee wellbeing and preference.”
He believes circadian lighting is going to be a major trend in the future, with user-friendly controls, further research, and the experience of early adopters being key to unlocking its potential. Circadian lighting is a lighting system designed to promote circadian health, typically involving cooler, high-output light in the morning tapering off to warmer, lower-output light in the evening. “It is very important that circadian applications have a plan and have circadian goals in place,” Mix said, “so that the application can be realized with the proper lighting and control specifications.”
“Get ready,” concluded Mix. “The lighting world is going to be full of new and exciting applications.”