Below is my contribution to the December 2021 issue of tED Magazine, the official publication of the NAED. Reprinted with permission.

Outdoor lighting has evolved dramatically in the last 20 years. Today’s commercial outdoor area lighting must do a lot more lifting beyond its traditional role of providing illumination for nighttime safety and security and turning On and Off with the sun’s cycle or a time switch.

Application efficiency, visual comfort, color, control, and optical control are all key considerations when selecting a quality outdoor lighting solution today for new construction and upgrade projects. While this has certainly increased complexity, it has also enhanced opportunity for electrical distributors willing to invest in knowledge and stay on top of what’s new.

“Commercial outdoor lighting is a strong market,” said Erik Milz, VP, Product Management, Cree Lighting (CreeLighting.com). “Businesses continue to convert to LED lighting from old technologies that burned money. The LED lighting industry is also now mature enough that we’re starting to see early adopters to LED lighting begin to enter the replacement cycle. Add to that pent-up demand from the pandemic, and overall demand is strong.”

He added that the market currently faces some serious challenges, however. Supply chain bottlenecks, shortages of raw materials and components, supplier cost increases, and the impact of the pandemic on employees and customers are all combining to make it a tougher market.

Travis Bouck, Business Leader, Outdoor Lighting, Cooper Lighting Solutions (CooperLighting.com), said the market itself is undergoing change affecting need for outdoor lighting. “At a high level, we are seeing a move towards deurbanization and an increase in the use of outdoor spaces, which is driving activity outside of city centers and accelerating a long-term trend toward walkable communities and more outdoor lighting and working, in general,” he said. “This trend is visible in the residential market, of course, followed closely by retail, grocery, and other supporting sectors.”

He added he anticipates growth in demand for lighting products that comply with the Buy American Act and Trade Agreements Act, given the likelihood of increasing government spending on infrastructure projects.

In this article, we’ll look at the key design and technological trends shaping demand for outdoor lighting.

Image courtesy of Cooper Lighting Solutions.

Lighting trends

A number of trends are affecting this lighting category, culminating in a luminaire that is energy-efficient; non-glaring; emits light only where, when, and in the quantity needed; is aesthetically pleasing with a minimal visual footprint; and minimally impacts the environment. Other potential emerging and future trends include programmable light output and color to reduce inventory, more compact and lightweight luminaires, solar power options, potential to use poles for services such as charging and Wi-Fi in a smart city setup, and greater controllability and integration.

Topping the list is lighting performance, the primary job; energy, the primary restriction; and finding the right balance between the two.

While LED efficiency is steadily approaching its practical limit, Milz said there is still room and demand for even higher efficiency. “The market demand is that same drumbeat—more for less, and improved performance across the board,” he added.

Bouck pointed out a lot more attention is being given to application, not simply light source, efficiency. “Our customers recognize that energy consumption per site is the metric that matters, not lumens per watt,” he said. “Our goal is to deliver superior optical distributions that maximize the usage of every watt and provide specifiers with options to direct illumination where it is needed most for their application.”

Milz agreed, stating, “There’s more attention being paid to optical control, especially from a visual comfort standpoint—and therefore especially at low mounting heights. Customers are savvy enough now to look for LED fixture designs that reduce glare and employ highly efficient optics to distribute light with as little loss as possible, and in ways that enable light to be directed exactly—and only—where it is supposed to go.”

Advances in optical control allow precise distribution, minimal glare, and an overall potentially higher application efficiency. This capability also dovetails into two other outdoor lighting concerns, which is minimizing light trespass—light entering properties where it is considered a nuisance or disruptive—and skyglow—light wasted upward toward the sky.

Numerous local ordinances, a model ordinance authored by the Illuminating Engineering Society and the International Dark-Sky Association, and various metrics address this and similar issues. The latest development is the LUNA Technical Requirements, which the DesignLights Consortium (DLC) intends to take effect in 2022. These requirements will affect products qualifying for utility rebates in a DLC Qualified Products List.

Light source color is a related issue, as the wavelength emission potentially affects people and wildlife. As the efficacy difference between warm and cool color temperatures narrowed, warm white became increasingly viable as a design choice and gained a boost when the American Medical Association issued guidelines several years ago advising adoption of warm-white roadway lighting.

“We continue to see demand for warmer CCTs, especially in public use spaces, where neighbors are close by and wildlife can be affected,” Milz said. “Despite a trend toward warmer color temperatures, we still see a sizable portion of our customers buying the cooler CCTs that have dominated in the past. The trend is starting, but it’s not yet a surge.”

He added that research into the impact of nighttime lighting on wildlife will tie into the color capabilities inherent in LED to make outdoor lighting designs more environmentally friendly.

Control trends

The latest commercial energy codes and standards require that outdoor area luminaires be capable of automatically turning On and Off either based on a photocontrol or time schedule. Some dusk-to-dawn luminaires may also be required to reduce output during lack of occupancy using a sensor.

Outdoor LED luminaires are well equipped for these and other controls using the NEMA standard seven-pin socket, which accommodates a variety of devices, whatever the customer might need now or in the future. Wireless controls enable data for measuring and monitoring along with integration with other systems, including the indoor lighting system.

“When outdoor lighting interacts with and responds to our needs and activities with the same degree of personalization that our phones do?” Milz asked. “That will be the next big thing. Which means greater focus on more and more integrated controls, along with a continued drop in costs and attendant rise in the potential for LED-enabled IoT applications.”

Opportunities

Electrical distributors have opportunities with this category, from new construction to early LED adopters now entering the replacement cycle to energy-saving retrofits. Some projects may be relatively simple, others more involved in terms of controllability and restrictions on light distribution. Increasingly, projects may become more ambitious, integrating additional services and other systems, particularly as smart cities develop.

Milz encourages distributors to get educated and maintain close and frequent interaction with manufacturers, even to the point of integrating to produce digital visibility of each other’s supply chain. “When the manufacturer can see your inventory, you never need to worry about empty shelves,” he said. “When you can see the manufacturer’s, you know in real time exactly what commitments you can make.”