Below is my contribution to the January 2021 issue of tED Magazine, the official publication of the NAED.
The COVID-19 pandemic has created extraordinary challenges for electrical distributors and their customers. For the end-user, a primary goal is the safe reopening and operation of buildings. The lighting industry has responded by developing germicidal ultraviolet options, promoting visible-light disinfection and lighting options designed to cultivate wellbeing among occupants, and controls that are touchless, wireless, and facilitate management of social distancing protocols. While the pandemic will someday end, its impact on buildings may endure far into the future.
To get a picture of how lighting is being affected by the pandemic, tED’s Craig DiLouie, LC, CLCP talked to five industry leaders.
DiLouie: The COVID-19 pandemic is directly contributing to a projected contraction in new construction that may last well into 2021. In economic shocks, however, there are typically opportunities as well as threats. Where do you see the biggest opportunities in lighting in 2021? What can electrical distributors do to take advantage of these opportunities?
Mike Watson, Cree Lighting: This year’s combination of remote working and extended business shutdowns opens two areas of opportunity for electrical distributors in 2021: addressing changes in commercial real-estate use and adapting to the rise of digital business models.
With “work from home” proven to be effective, retail and office spaces are migrating to lower density and smaller footprints, driving commercial real-estate projects towards new business models such as telehealth centers and retail-to-warehouse conversion. Retrofit projects could grow in share of lighting projects as new construction shrinks, and demand will increase for warehouse and industrial lighting as e-commerce continues to grow rapidly.
Additionally, the growth of e-commerce means that buyers will increasingly look for 24/7 information, more transparent pricing, and improved digital communication. To adapt, distributors will need to develop omnichannel strategies that embrace e-commerce, meet the customer where they are, and provide price transparency with service differentiation. Brick-and-mortar distributors can leverage their physical presence as a differentiator while also becoming more digital. To help distributors navigate this shift, we’re providing extensive product information and tools digitally on CreeLighting.com—presenting customers with instant, relevant information—while helping them enjoy a local distributor relationship for delivery and other services.
Mike Watson is Vice President, Marketing and General Manager of e-conolight at Cree Lighting, a company of IDEAL INDUSTRIES.
DiLouie: Acuity Brands recently announced a strategic partnership with Ushio to incorporate filtered far-UVC disinfection modules into general lighting luminaires. Do you believe COVID will result in a permanent shift among building owners toward ongoing disinfection, including germicidal ultraviolet?
Gary Trott, Acuity Brands Lighting: While we can’t predict the future, we think due to the emergence of the COVID-19 pandemic, lighting manufacturers are going to see long-term interest from building owners in developing comprehensive and ongoing disinfection protocols, including using germicidal UV where appropriate.
COVID-19 has brought UV lighting to the forefront from what has been previously a very niche technology. In fact, this immediate need for disinfection solutions has given rise to new and innovative product developments, such as the recent emergence of filtered 222nm far-UVC technology for use in occupied and unoccupied spaces. We anticipate that integrating technologies like filtered 222nm far-UVC into general illumination luminaires will make it even easier for building owners to adopt this technology. When applied, the 222nm far-UVC technology will allow people to be present while continually reducing harmful pathogens in a way that is unobtrusive … but is just visible enough to provide the message that the building owner is working to help make people feel safer.
We think that a variety of “disinfection” solutions will be now discussed on many new design and renovation projects as building owners seek ways to keep spaces safer for occupants. And this is even more likely to be the case for owners of buildings with high-traffic and/or public gathering areas such as restrooms, dining areas, meeting spaces, waiting rooms and so forth.
Gary Trott is Vice President, Technology Commercialization for Acuity Brands Lighting.
DiLouie: In what ways can lighting controls support efforts to keep buildings open and otherwise support occupant health during the pandemic?
Tom Perich, Lutron Electronics: As businesses begin to reopen and navigate our new reality, they will consider social distancing mandates, enhanced cleaning requirements, and physical changes to the space that help employees and visitors feel confident and reassured.
These changes are complicated by that fact that contractors are facing widespread skilled labor shortages, challenges resulting from COVID-based work rules, supply chain disruptions, and unusual schedule constraints.
Wireless, touchless lighting control can help mitigate the challenges of these situations in several ways. From the design and implementation perspective wireless solutions save time—install up to 70 percent faster than wired, reduce material and labor costs, and minimize risk by maximizing flexibility for the user and the building owner.
For building managers, there are additional benefits. Wireless solutions like Lutron Vive can include touchless options for hands-free adjustment of the lighting, personal control that limits the number of people interacting with a keypad, and simple reconfiguration right from a convenient iOS app. Lighting can be programmed and zoned to facilitate social distancing protocols, and then easily reconfigured with no rewiring or tearing open walls.
Wireless lighting is flexible, agile, and able to adapt quickly to support both owners and employees during these evolving and uncertain times.
Thomas Perich is Director, Channel Marketing – Electrical Wholesale for Lutron Electronics.
DiLouie: Hubbell is now offering visible light disinfection luminaires that produce conventional general illumination while focusing a portion of its emission in the 405 nm range. While this emission is not effective against viruses such as the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, it has been demonstrated as effective against bacteria. Do you believe the pandemic has created a heightened awareness for lighting that promotes health beyond COVID mitigation?
Jeff McClow, Hubbell Lighting: Yes. Facilities of all shapes, sizes and functionality are challenged with creating and maintaining a clean and healthy environment. It’s one of the reasons why we developed SpectraClean, which combines white and narrowband 405nm visible light to meet ambient and task lighting requirements while providing a continuous, unobtrusive disinfection option for forward-thinking facility owners and operators. For example, the U.S. food industry where there’s an estimated $77 billion economic loss incurred from recalls related to foodborne illnesses every year. While rigorous food safety practices reduce the risk associated with these illnesses, they aren’t 100 percent foolproof and foodborne illness outbreaks continue.
Jeff McClow is Product Manager for Hubbell Lighting.
DiLouie: The COVID-19 pandemic has raised awareness of the need and opportunity for building owners to provide occupants with healthier spaces. Besides potential opportunities with germicidal lighting, what other opportunities should electrical distributors be promoting to end-user customers about lighting and human health?
Kevin Poyck, Signify: Keeping employees healthy and protecting their well-being are major workplace concerns. Lighting can help us be smarter about the way we use shared office spaces, enable teams to be productive and ensure we are prepared for challenges that may arise in the future.
Electrical distributors can help guide end-user customers on the value of connected lighting systems. Building managers can use their lighting infrastructure in combination with software tools to plan and make critical spacing and operational decisions. For example, they can steer employees to uncrowded areas of their facility to comply with physical distancing requirements, while leveraging the seating data to ensure those areas are cleaned more frequently.
Beyond the current pandemic, tunable lighting is another area that can make a big difference in the health and well-being of employees. Automatically mimicking daylight patterns and adjusting our lighting’s temperature and brightness can provide visual comfort, offer productivity boosts, enhance collaboration and lead to increased employee satisfaction. Distributors can be a strategic advisor for customers, educating them on occupant wellness-based benefits beyond simply energy-savings ROI.
Kevin Poyck is CEO of the Americas for Signify.