Innovations in Lighting and Illumination

Kevin Parmenter, Excelsys Technologies, Vice President Applications Engineering, N. America, PSD Contributor



Innovation in electronics in lighting has greatly increased the efficiency of the process of converting electrical energy into light.  Energy savings have been increased further by increased knowledge of the effects of light intensity and wavelengths on plants, animals and humans.   Not only has electronics provided increased efficiency the ability to turn lighting on and off or modulate the intensity, as needed based on need has gotten much better.  Probably one of the most important opportunities for increased energy savings in lighting is using the ambient natural light which has little to no associated energy use – sky lighting and so forth meaning applications should use natural light whenever possible for instance in buildings and greenhouses for example.   LED lighting is rapidly replacing incandescent, halogen, fluorescent and various high intensity discharge lighting.  The growth of LED lighting specifically has been dramatic however the upside potential for replacing traditional lighting is significant. 

From power electronics perspective LED lighting offers the best opportunities for replacement of traditional lighting methods yet others are still being used.  With the exception of incandescent and halogen lamps other technologies require electronics such as ballasts which is great for those of us in power electronics. CFL’s HID lamps, including low pressure and high pressure sodium mercury vapor and metal halide all need some form of ballast and various degrees of electronics to operate properly.  Halogen and Incandescent still have a place in; still have niches such as oven lighting where other technologies cannot tolerate the environment or where heat is a desired byproduct. 

Such as keeping pipes from freezing in winter weather for example.    One of the largest applications of agricultural lighting there are some additional benefits to LED lighting in that the wavelengths can be tuned to match the spectral distributions of the plants needs. And of course the lighting can be turned on and off with electronic controls as needed via either computer control including lighting strategies based on historical or -or projected weather or something as simple as a photocell control.  Of course of the various technologies other than incandescent and halogen LEDs can be easily dimmed as needed and not just either on or off control.   As LED’s get better and better from a lumens per watt and dollar per lumen perspective they keep displacing traditional lighting methods in a wide range of applications from commercial, industrial, aviation – transportation including vehicles.  LED lighting in electric vehicles helps conserve batter life and provides a better lighting experience as well.  

Of course, one of the agricultural applications includes grow lights for legal as well as semi-legal and illegal plants and this seems to show no sign of slow down.   Probable one of the top opportunities for LED lighting would be the replacement of street lighting to offer a better color temperature for more natural lighting as well as higher efficiently.   From a market standpoint the volumes are large and the cost pressures are intense from both the LED’s themselves to the semiconductors that power them to the IC’s and discrete devices used in the ballasts and lighting power supplies themselves.  The cost pressures and pace of change are intense across the entire supply chain.   Global competition in these areas is also extreme.  The environments for lighting especially street lighting have high transients and surges on the supply lines and since the sensitive electronics are replacing electrical ballasts they are expected to survive all this with little margin available to provide it.   At the same time warranties are lengthy with 7 years becoming normal for lighting electronics.  If you have what it takes to compete the market is fast growing yet very Darwinian.   The good news is that those that survive are making a better experience for us all and saving us energy in the process of making the energy to light conversion process better.