Lighting Commentary

What’s Next For Lighting?

Let’s call out the parade! We won. LED is now the official light source of the world. We’ve saved lots of money. Energy use is down. Wo-Hoo! We’re done!

Photo by Vlad Vasnetsov on

Or, perhaps, we are not. If you’ve noticed a lull in new lighting product innovation you’re not mistaken. I believe however, it would be wrong to assume this to be a permanent state. Instead, we need to keep our eyes open for the next innovation that will rock the lighting world.

Advances in Integration

Over a decade ago, the “Lighting For Tomorrow” competition instigated new and exciting energy efficient products into the market. Initially, products were created to prove that fluorescent didn’t need to be ugly, but LED appeared quickly thereafter and the whole landscape changed. Because we are fully enmeshed in the use of LED, that competition has been abandoned in favor of the “Integrated Home Competition.” By seamlessly linking HVAC, controls and lighting, the next level of energy savings might be met. Finding a system that is easy to use and requires minimal education for the consumer can take us to the next level of energy savings.

Cutting Bait on Existing Technology

Perhaps you noticed the news that Canada and a few states in America are considering a ban on HID, high-pressure sodium and Metal Halide lighting. The US got rid of Mercury Vapor a number of years ago. There is also a growing band of government entities who have already ended, or are in the process of ending, the use of fluorescent. LED is now the only real game in town. I have even seen OLEDs on a list of possible elimination in Europe because of its lack of efficacy. Ultimately, this means that the desire for increased energy efficiency has NOT disappeared.

Most industry experts and utility concerns understand that the next generation of energy savings will come from more effectively applied controls. Occupancy sensors, motion sensors, zoned lighting controls and a more generous collection of dimmers will all result in reduced lighting power demand. This may seem awfully incremental, but a study done by Pacific Gas & Electric in 2013 on an Ace Hardware Warehouse illustrated the impact controls could achieve.

The original fluorescent and HID lighting was swapped for, at the time, “new” LED luminaires. That move reduced energy consumption to 80% of original. By adding, dimming, daylight sensitive switches, occupancy controls, course zoning and fine zoning controls, the end result brought energy consumption to an incredibly low 7% (a 93% reduction of energy) of the baseline! If even a portion of that can be achieved in a residence, it must be considered a win.

You may read the entire PG&E report here:

Sweat Energy

The scientist at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst have created a biofilm that sticks to the skin and creates electricity from sweat. They imagine it to be used for all types of electronic wearables and electronic health devices. Combining this invention with the recently discovered need to have light delivered to our bodies in various angles and directions and the whole concept of how we use light and how it is powered might be upended.

The researchers further believe that additional energy could be extracted from the naturally occurring process of evaporation. Apparently, half of the sun’s energy is lost in its transition to the earth. They believe they can capture some of that loss and turn it back into a usable resource. Yes, I know. This is wild. It seems so odd that we could extract energy from sweat and evaporation, but back in 1917 the concept of electroluminescence from solid-state diodes led us to LED today. With that as a baseline, almost anything is possible.


I have been saying for years that I didn’t understand why integrated LED recessed cans have maintained their 6” size. There is no reason for such a large hole in the ceiling now that diodes are delivering illumination. At the very least, I assumed the industry would swap to 4” as more of a standard. A number of smaller pieces have shown up on the market, but their output have been closer to recessed MR16 performance than the larger units.

Imagine my delight when I found the new CSL Whisper. This is a trimless ½” diameter recessed downlight. Checking out the specifications, it looks like the 50° optics deliver excellent light amounts. (A center-beam candle power of 1398.) While no recessed light placement is “rule-of-thumb,” numbers like this should work great in 10’-0” ceiling heights. A tighter 30° beam angle will be effective in tall locations or in areas with lower reflectance. Because of the extremely small size, glare should be very low. Checking out the installation instructions, it shows a very simple task. Clearly easier than installing that huge metal box in the plenum. This appears to be exactly what I had hoped would happen once some smart engineers started to think outside the 6” can. I have not yet seen the unit installed, but I sure am encouraged!


Perhaps these aren’t the paradigm shift we experienced with LED, but they do continue advanced movement and fresh thinking. It also suggests that lighting will not fall into another 130-year incandescent rut. We will, however need to expand our concept of light and energy savings to include some advances. Controls, sweat and ultra-tiny luminaires will make our exit from existing technologies easier. It also bodes well for a more planet-friendly, sustainable future. We should all feel good about that.

4 replies on “What’s Next For Lighting?”

We’ve specified 100’s of Whispers and installed many apure Minus, which Whisper is modeled from. So far so good. Glare is less but they have a sparkle you don’t have with standard cans. 10’ ceilings require more than you’d think, even at ~1000lm delivered they’re not as bright as a 2-3″ can with the same power. Surprisingly, the 30 degree optic produces significantly less light. They are NOT adjustable, so you must mix and match cans on the same ceiling plan if you have art. The light engine is permanently installed and not serviceable without access from above or ripping it out of the ceiling; many will not love this. The driver is remote, which is good for service, but adds complexity to the design. And the drivers are oddly constant current but wired in parallel, which doesn’t follow any industry standard, so be mindful of using the correct driver! Overall it’s an excellent fixture but not without its limitations. It just might add enough complexity that it never gains traction in the CEDIA channel.


Wynne, thanks so much for the comments! Glad to hear your thoughts. Based on the spec sheets and photometrics, i was expecting a bit better than your comments would suggest, but nice to know they are viable. Yes, you are right. The tiny opening would make servicing prohibitive. I guess if it operates trouble-free for 50,000 hours, there won’t be many complaints! Good suggestions all around! Thanks again!


I am glad to read that dimming, daylight sensitive switches, occupancy controls, course zoning and fine zoning controls seem to gain more traction. My main concern with LEDs continues to be their poor light quality when they are being dimmed and I find the building trade does not seem to be concerned and educated about it. I don’t hear much talk about this problem, however, I and many of my clients have therefore not considered LED lighting until dim-to-warm light fixtures have more recently become available, or are dismayed after standard LED lights have been installed that are on a dimmer. Still very few LED light fixtures come with this feature, and the LED dim-to-warm replacement bulbs have disappointed me in their dimming performance. I checked the specs of the new CSL Wisper and I see that it does not have a dim-to-warm capability. I can’t help but wonder when dim-to-warm will become a standard feature of all LED light sources. It is a known fact that humans need warmer light colors for a good night’s sleep. Even cellphones now dim to a warmer color. When will the LED lighting industry catch up?


Sven, i suspect the reason for little enthusiasm is the relative high-cost still associated with warm-to-dim. Rest assured that many manufacturers are developing these and more and more are on the market. Performance, as you indicate remains “ok” at this point. Dimming incandescent is a byproduct of voltage reduction and a heated filament that “cools” to the lower color temperature. All that must now be replicated in electronic devices using a variety of different color diodes. This is a much more complex function.

when dim-to-warm becomes more cost effective and the performance is better, it will show up. Until that point, manufacturers are reluctant to offer it, because of the dissatisfaction you have just voiced. No point in providing the customer with sub-par products. Thanks so much for you comments! – Jeff


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