Lighting the future

Patrick Le Fèvre, Powerbox


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Designing the energy-efficient illumination systems of tomorrow

Patrick Le Fèvre, Powerbox

With the vital need to save energy, the power industry has permanently innovated the way we convert electron to electron. Power conversion ratios are approaching physical limits, energizing researches and inventions. New applications are now requiring power designers to explore a new dimension, the efficient conversion from electron to photon.

Since 1860, when the English inventor Sir Joseph Wilson Swan created the first electric light bulb concept, followed by Thomas Edison and his team in 1879 patenting the carbon-thread incandescent lamp, the lighting industry has been dominated by conventional technology. The introduction of “energy saving in lighting” brought power electronics into this exciting segment, and we are now seeing an amazing flood of innovations, contributing to make our lives better while reducing energy consumption.

A diverse industry

The lighting segment is very diversified, but Solid State Lighting (SSL) based on LEDs will pop the conventional light bubble, as the possibilities offered by SSL bring disruption in industrial applications such as urban farming, horticulture, water purification, and even UV applications such as medical therapy are rapidly developing.

This where electrons meet photons, requiring power designers to work very close with LED manufacturers. One example is so-called “GaN (Gallium Nitride) lighting”, using GaN transistors in the power stage, and GaN-on-Silicon in the LED element. Although anecdotic, it reflects the industrial maturity of the usage of GaN in the power and lighting industries. As power designer it is very interesting to follow both technologies and I foresee huge benefits in that association.

A power designer has to be very creative to bring power solutions to applications that our society might depend on in the future. For example, urban farming requires very special power solutions. The specific light spectrum to grow plants and vegetables starts from 50 micromoles (µmol) for mushrooms up to 1500 µmol for large tomatoes and watermelon. The lighting equipment requires specific power supply with very complex feedback and monitoring, which digital control can make simpler.

Urban farms are smoothly moving to modern lighting. Today multiple LED ramps are commonly used to energy efficiently grow vegetables though more progresses can be achieved by integrating intelligent power sources in LED modules. One of the research area is to create micro-LED panel with growth index monitoring, able to modulate the light locally (1/2 square meter area). That will require a very efficient power solution able to adjust all parameters to “vegetable growth.” Here the electrons and the photons meet a new dimension, “feeding the population with sustainability for future generations.”

Who said that lighting industry was ugly and the power industry boring?