dMASS.net’s first weekly theme was lighting. We took a few moments to talk to founder Howard Brown about his perspectives on the future of lighting. You led an environmental consulting firm that started working with companies through energy conservation projects in the 1980s. Based on your experiences then, what’s changed with respect to lighting?
The options were much more limited. We helped a lot of companies with lighting retrofits (swapping out existing fixtures with more efficient ones) and de-lamping (excess seemed to have been the standard in the 1960s and ‘70s). We were among the first to show clients how color rendition and more modest light levels could improve productivity in the workplace and we often recommended better controls. But the technologies were relatively crude compared to what’s readily available now. Building management systems were just entering the market and controls were minimal. Now with so many emerging technologies, there are a lot of exciting opportunities.
The really big difference I see is in the scope and depth of the discussion beyond specific areas like lighting. Back then, few companies were ready to talk more broadly about the relationship between environment and their operations - strategies like product redesign, lifecycle costing, supply chain management, or integrated resource management. We began to see a significant shift in the 1990s and the discussion now is much more comprehensive.
What are some of the major issues related to lighting today?
There are three questions that I think lighting technology and design need to address.
The first is, how can we convert electricity to light more efficiently? We've seen steady progress in reducing the energy required for operating lights, from incandescent to fluorescent, to high efficiency fluorescents, compact fluorescents, LEDs and now organic LEDS (OLEDs). All of the advances in lighting are essentially about trying to convert electricity into light with less heat loss.
The second question is, how can we get light only where and when we need it? We’re using a lot of energy now to light unoccupied rooms or, in the case of a lot of outdoor lighting, light up the sky. Lighting design and controls are about more precisely matching technology with people's needs. They represent huge opportunities in energy demand reduction.
Finally, how close can we get to eliminating the need for energy to generate lighting? Daylighting experts are doing very interesting things to figure out how to move natural light to where it’s needed without using power. They’re using fiber optic materials to move daylight to the interior sections of buildings where there are no windows. This saves tons of fuel, especially during the peak demand periods for power plants.
What do you see for the future of lighting?
I think the light bulb will become one of those products that was once commonplace but has disappeared, like metal keys, records, and CDs. After all, Thomas Edison didn’t set out to invent a light bulb. He was trying to figure out how to convert electricity into light. Customers today don’t want light bulbs. They want low-cost light. They want the function that light bulbs currently perform.
Miniaturization makes it possible for entirely new approaches to lighting technology. Lighting will become more and more integrated with other building materials, like paint, ceiling tiles, and so on. New technologies will replace the need for tons of hardware, from the bulbs themselves to the sockets and fixtures. We’re going to have thin, printable lighting. The savings won’t just be in less resources and energy used in the lighting itself, but throughout the infrastructure of buildings.