Thursday, April 5, 2012

You Can Add Value On LED Lighting

By Joe Salimando
Salimando is a Fairfax, Virginia-based writer and contributor to energysolutions.necanet.orgeleblog.com, and tedmag.com.
Reach him at
ecdotcom@gmail.com

As you probably already suspect, there is a great deal to know about LED lighting. Headlines (LED bulb prices at retail are falling) crumble when you do a little investigation (the somewhat-heralded $4.95 LED bulb, from Lemnis Lighting, gives off a paltry amount of light).

LEDs have serious problems elsewhere. Retrofit ‘em into a place with an existing lighting control system, or simple dimmers, and you probably get a call-back. Install LEDs from one of the many names with which you’re not familiar and . .  . well, it’s not for nothing that LightFair will be held next month in Las Vegas!

There are numerous problems I won’t list here. You’d have to study the CALiPER work done by DoE (11 rounds of testing off-the-shelf LED products) to get a clear picture. And you’d need to pay attention to the progress, or LACK of same, of LED replacements for T8 fluorescent tubes.

Above: Lots of LEDucation6 exhibits consisted of bright lights. My photo-taking abilities yielded a lot of pix like this (and some much worse).

Suggestion: You’re just the guy/gal to do it. Electrical contractors have always been at the “event horizon,” where the rubber meets the road, in the electrical industry. Nothing is different today, except for the fact that there is widespread ignorance and fear of LEDs throughout the lighting and electrical industries.

What’s more, your leading-edge knowledge of what’s going on in the LED world, if you can gain it, will further round out your status as an Energy Solutions provider.

Taking the pulse

On March 21, I took the Amtrak from D.C. to NYC for LEDucation 6, a one-day LED-only lighting show and conference organized by the Designers Lighting Forum of NY (www.dflny.org). Helping me out greatly was the fact the Hotel Pennsylvania, where the event was held, was right across the street from Penn Station (i.e., underneath Madison Square Garden). No taxi fare!

My notebook is chock full of stuff; there’s not enough room here to go into it all. Here are highlights:

Freedom from binning – In a session in which Chad Stalker of Philips Lumileds spoke about “LEDs: The Move To The Digital World,” he briefly covered binning. More importantly, his slide read “freedom from binning” – yet there seemed to be little excitement about this in a packed house.

From what I know about LEDs and binning, “freedom” is a great proposition. At one point, he asked for a show of hands – how many knew what binning was; perhaps 33% or fewer of the attendees raised their hands.

I spoke with Stalker after; how did he interpret the fact that perhaps two-thirds of the audience (we were at an LED conference, remember!) indicated they were not acquainted with binning? Possibilities I’ve come up with:

  1. Arthritis and/or bursitis run rampant in the NYC lighting design community.
  2. People are shy (Stalker’s guess).
  3. Many attendees showed up to learn about LEDs. These lighting people don’t know any more than you do!

Above: An exhibitor talks to an attendee at LEDucation6. I was born in Brooklyn and this picture is encouraging – some people in the NYC area still talk with their hands!

Hot topic – according to DLFNY, more than 2,000 people showed up for this thing. I spoke to someone associated with the org – who indicated that there was a “waiting list” of exhibitors. Now, one reason for this might be that Lightfair has not been held in NYC since 2009 – and won’t be this year or next.

Can it be that lighting folks won’t take the train or drive to Philadelphia? That’s where Lightfair was held last year and will be next year.

I was not on the show floor after 5PM. However, the thing ran to 8PM – and I was told (by someone old enough to know!) that at about 6PM, “don’t stand near the elevators” (the show   was on the hotel’s 18th floor). Why? “That’s when the lighting designers who get off work come here, and there are a lot of them!”

LEDs & building automation – I couldn’t stay for the full final panel discussion, which was about LED controls. One panelist suggested making LED controls a part of building automation systems. We could even, he said, send power and control over the same wire!

He never said the words “Power Over Ethernet” (or the acronym POE). His audience (including fellow panelists) seemed almost stunned by the idea of bringing this topic in from deep left field . . . maybe from the parking lot behind the bleachers, for Pete’s sake!.

Tentative conclusion – I believe most electrical contractors likely to read this know something about POE. I don’t know if LEDucation 6 was promoted to a list of local contractors; I don’t know if ECs or their employees were among those charging off the elevators at 6PM.

BUT: Perhaps you don’t know much right now about binning . . . well, it appears you might not have a lot of ground to make up, at least on that subject.

If you envision yourself as an Energy Solutions provider, LEDs probably are not going to be central to your expertise and service offerings. But they are be in there, no doubt; part of the “mix” that you’re likely to pursue or be asked about.

Ignoring LEDs now, or just trusting to your distributor or name suppliers, might not be the most reliable way for you to go.

As you gain more experience talking to people about LEDs, and learning from suppliers, you’ve got a good shot at becoming the local expert on what will work and what won’t work in real-world applications. That opportunity isn’t out there for everyone!

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