I recently had the pleasure of interviewing Gary Trott, VP of Marketing, Intelligent Lighting, Cree, Inc. The topic: trends in office lighting. The interview informed an article I wrote for the July 2018 issue of tED Magazine.

DiLouie: How would you characterize the office lighting market in terms of size and current demand?

Trott: Demand for the office lighting market is growing in unique ways due to the increase of shared workspaces and microleasing offices such as WeWork and MakeOffices. What is interesting about this trend is that not only has it caused an increase in the size of the market, but it has increased design innovation. There is a renewed focus on developing offices that are open, collaborative and make its occupants happy. Offices that people want to go to and that help attract and retain talent. Intelligent lighting offers a unique opportunity to help this trend.

We also see these trends translate to traditional commercial office spaces as well, where employers want to ensure the workspace is a productive and inspiring place. Traditional or older offices that cannot be fully renovated are being retrofitted with intelligent lighting, which saves energy and provides a significant upgrade to the occupant experience.

DiLouie: What are the top 3-5 trends shaping how office space is used, and what effect is this having on demand for specific types of lighting equipment?

Trott: One trend in office spaces that we continually see is the desire to find ways to improve energy efficiency and consume less power with lighting through advanced controls. New retrofit control options have made reaching this goal more attainable because of the ease of implementation. Upgrading to lighting that has better control options can deliver significant energy savings and improve occupant satisfaction by giving them greater control of the light’s output and color.

Another trend on the rise is that buildings are implementing Internet of Things (IoT) solutions to make buildings more effective and improve occupant satisfaction. Lighting is the perfect backbone for this because lights are everywhere in a building and serve as the mechanical platform for sensors and connectivity. Cree’s SmartCast Intelligence Platform, for instance, can utilize occupancy sensors on the lights to connect with the HVAC system and tell it when to turn on. Occupancy analytics can help facility managers get more out of the space they have and avoid costly construction. Occupancy data from the lights can make security systems more effective by providing full building awareness.

Finally, the last trend we see is around the desire to create personalized and customized spaces. Employers today are focused on creating collaborative, comfortable and open spaces. In the past, when you walked into work the lighting was what it was, with no option to change it. Now, lighting can be used to energize employees, impact productivity levels and improve employee engagement. Since comfort is such an important driver of employee satisfaction, we have partnered with companies like Comfy, an app that connects to our lights and makes it possible for people to either adjust lights individually or vote for lighting levels if they are in a group setting. The same can be done for the HVAC system as well. It enables workers to feel like their workplace is responsive to them and they have a say in their environment.

DiLouie: Aside from energy savings and long service life, in what ways has LED technology changed office lighting?

Trott: LEDs are a fundamentally digital technology, with microprocessors and memory power computing. This means LEDs make an ideal IoT platform because they have the power, connectivity and computing power to create an intelligent lighting network of sensors that can integrate across other IoT technologies.

A new trend in LED technology that is revolutionizing office lighting is the color changing capabilities enabled by intelligent lighting. In the past, lighting had very static conditions, only allowing people to switch between on and off in one color. 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. People in office spaces can enjoy adjusting the color to a temperature they desire, from very warm to very cool or any temperature in between. With LED lighting, it’s possible to match the illumination indoors to what it is happening outside. Adjusting the light to be warmer in the morning and cooler in the evening offers benefits, such as helping employees feel more energized.

DiLouie: As a percentage, how large is the high-end of the market (premium, value-added, architectural), and what are the top 3-5 technological trends there affecting product development?

Trott: For the high-end market, there has been an increase in focus on the employee and their experience with lighting in the collaborative workspace. There’s a hyper-focus on making sure the lighting interacts well with the architecture and design of the office space to create a great-looking and collaborative environment.

In the past, there was a stronger priority placed on creating a certain aesthetic and look independent of what the occupants needed. 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. Human capital is the most crucial asset available to companies, so their needs must be prioritized when designing an office space and its lighting solution.

DiLouie: In what key areas has LED office lighting improved over the past three years, and what benefits do these improvements offer?

Trott: The biggest improvement in LED lighting over the past few years is that controls have become more integrated and approachable in every project. This gives more offices the ability to further amplify their energy savings and improve user experiences.

Not only can people save more energy, but it is also easier to justify purchasing higher quality lighting. The cost has come down and the performance differential is minor, so customers can buy top color quality products with almost no penalty.

Over the past three years, enabling the IoT with lighting has gone from a catchphrase to something real, and Cree’s SmartCast Intelligence platform is a perfect example of that. 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. For example, if a team needs to be moved to a new floor, the building manager can use the data from the lights to find underutilized space in which to relocate them.

DiLouie: The Lighting Research Center has made strides in defining and creating metrics and guidelines for circadian lighting. What is your view of this potential office lighting trend, and are you seeing any market interest?

Trott: The Lighting Research Center’s efforts to develop metrics and guidelines for circadian lighting is very important and is of interest to the market. While research about circadian lighting and the potential benefits is growing, it is inconclusive. Again, LED lighting provides an option to color tune and adjust a system to meet user preferences in ways that were not possible with incumbent sources. We believe it is important for the owner and users of a space to be able to adjust the lighting to suit their specific preferences and needs.

DiLouie: Many manufacturers now offer connected lighting solutions. How important is this trend, and how is affecting the market? What benefits does it offer specifically for office lighting?

Trott: Intelligent lighting is a very important trend that is affecting the market. 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. Once you have the infrastructure in place – that is, connected lighting solutions, you then have the technical capability to connect the lights to a wide range of other technologies within the building system.

The benefits of connected lighting systems are tremendous, spanning from efficiency and energy savings by conserving power; to connecting with building management systems to improve the spaces people live, work and play in. IoT-enabled office buildings can also help building operators with things like repurposing underutilized space to optimize productivity, learning how to reduce the company’s energy spend and even allowing employees to find unoccupied conference rooms.

DiLouie: The Internet of Things continues to be a hot topic of discussion in the industry. How far along is the IoT, and where is lighting currently positioned as a potential platform for IoT infrastructure?

Trott: We are at the beginning of the IoT trend, and that’s a great place to be. Intelligent LED lighting systems serve as a primary infrastructure that enables the IoT for commercial buildings. An intelligent lighting infrastructure has the ability to connect other technologies across the building management system such as HVAC, emergency notifications, building security and more. In addition, enhanced capabilities such as daylight harvesting, automated control and data-driven actionable insights provide value beyond lighting – something that has not previously been the case.

DiLouie: Color tuning is an important capability of LED lighting. Are you seeing any demand for tunable-white or color-tunable lighting in office buildings, and if so, for what specific applications?

Trott: We have seen an increased interest in the ability to color-tune lighting in office buildings. While research into this trend is ongoing, we have been exploring innovative ways to make this capability a reality for offices. Our customers have expressed positive feedback from their employees regarding this capability. Not only are there are potential impacts on the circadian rhythm of the typical 9-5 employees, but color-tunable lighting is especially important for shift workers who take the “graveyard shift” or employees who work for hours in labs without sunlight.

DiLouie: What are the main attributes of an office lighting solution that electrical distributors would be looking for? How do they confidently select a quality product?

Trott: Electrical distributors should be looking for lighting solutions that can be connected because it allows them to provide more value to their customers and differentiate themselves from other contractors. The key distinction is that the solution needs to be a scalable, simple and can either work at a basic level or within a fully connected network. The lighting should have control capabilities that function without having to connect to a central gateway or cloud center. This gives customers the option to install baseline technologies which may meet their current needs but can evolve into more advanced technologies in order to adapt to their future needs.

DiLouie: If you could tell the entire electrical industry just one thing about LED lighting for office applications, what would it be?

Trott: 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. IoT-enabled fixtures are easily installed and give you the ability to upgrade, change and improve their capability over time. Traditional lighting controls and fixtures do not have that capability.

DiLouie: Is there anything else you’d like to add about this topic?

Trott: Connected lighting and IoT can be somewhat intimidating, but most people are already experiencing it on a daily basis through their smart phones or virtual assistants like Alexa. People should try connected lighting and IoT-enabled lighting on their next project to see all the great benefits it brings. Don’t be scared of this technology, because — when you pick the right solution, it is easy to deliver value beyond lighting with very little effort.