Green

The network is the light bulb: Smart lighting set to surge in 2011

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We’ve written before about how software that makes buildings more energy-efficient will become an appealing sector in smart buildings. Well, smart buildings will need smart lighting. And so 2011 will be a year in which lighting systems — especially ones using light-emitting diodes, or LEDs — will be on the rise.

Networked lighting’s pitch is energy efficiency, a green strategy that promises return on investment, which is a must when selling to commercial entities. (That’s why, for example, electric vehicles been rolled out sooner and caught on faster among business buyers than consumers.) The basic premise of these lighting systems is that buildings and warehouses can save money by programming lights to automatically dim or shut off based on when the building is in use, as well as other factors, like the amount of sunlight streaming through windows.

Some lighting controls focus on more efficient use of standard fluorescent lights, but solid-state lighting like LEDs could save the U.S. $120 billion between now and 2030 if the technology advances to meet certain price and performance milestones, a February report from the Department of Energy concluded.

Lighting systems companies have been quick to point out the benefits of installing smart lighting. Digital Lumens claims that investing $100,000 into an LED project yields $50,000 a year in electricity and maintenance savings; Lumenergi also says it can produce a 50 percent savings on electricity bills. GreenBeat 2010 Innovation Competition winner Redwood Systems told us that its use of sensors not only reduces lighting costs but offers valuable insight on other inefficiencies in building energy management.

Josh Slobin, marketing director for Daintree Systems, a new entrant into the lighting-controls market, estimates that lighting makes up 40 percent of all building energy use. It has been gearing up wireless sensor-based lighting systems, a market that they decided to get into after recognizing there was “pretty huge chunk” of energy being used the building lightings market.

And Michael D’Amour, CEO of Lumenergi, another lighting-controls player, estimates that lighting accounts for more than 20 percent of all electricity consumed in the U.S. His company says customers for its systems can shave 50 percent off their lighting bills.

Another plus: Lighting systems can be integrated into the smart grid. D’Amour says Lumenergi’s systems can be designed to dim when the cost of electricity is higher and to shut of decorative lighting when the grid is overloaded.

Adura Technologies also uses wireless light switches connected with ZigBee. It uses algorithms to determine how much lighting is needed for environments like parking garages or offices to be comfortably and safely lit; all extraneous lights are cut off. Although there are a number of lighting companies in the field, success boils down to the bottom dollar.

“The key in the end is payback,” says Nat Goldhaber of Claremont Creek Ventures, which backs Adura. “How long does it take to get payback? If payback is over 10 years, you don’t get the deal.”

Still, the less-efficient Edison bulb and fluorescent lights reign in the lighting market, which is why executives like Lumenergi’s D’Amour say lighting controls are more important than LEDs when it comes to energy savings at the moment. But LEDs are set to grow 30 percent next year and earn $1 billion in annual revenue by 2014, according to a recent report by Groom Energy and Greentech Media Research. And lighting system companies like Lunera and Digital Lumens have banked on the LED model, designing their systems using LEDs.

Like lighting controls, LEDs cost more upfront but can save more money in the long run. In the case of LEDs, they last longer and are more energy efficient. The sector was marked by the NASDAQ debut this month of SemiLED, an Asian LED maker. U.S. LED manufacturers like startup Bridgelux are also aiming for a piece of the pie; others players include Cree, Phillips and Lemnis.

[Image via Flickr/roomiccube]