2013 Lighting Industry: A Look Back at My Predictions Part 2

Tony Johnson

At the beginning of 2013, I boldly made four predictions about the lighting industry and its technology in a blog post. In last week’s post, 2013 Lighting Industry: A Look Back at My Predictions Part 1, I tackled Prediction #1, LED Efficacy. Today, let’s look at how I did with Predictions #2-4.

Prediction #2. Focus on price reduction over efficiency gains

What I said then: LED fixtures have passed their fluorescent counterparts in terms of efficiency. Having reached that threshold, it’s still important to keep improving efficiency, but there will be more focus on reducing the cost of the fixtures. This cost reduction has the chance to stifle the inevitable efficacy gains because the technology is still maturing.

If I was designing a light fixture that is cheaper than the current fixture, with a large percentage of the cost being devoted to the LEDs themselves, I would go one of two ways: a) buy more efficient LEDs, drive them harder, but use fewer of them, or b) buy the “premium” LEDs from six months ago, at a discounted price. Both of those options stifle the trend of fixture efficiency, but at this point, fixture cost is a much larger roadblock than fixture efficiency.

Many people around the EMC office and our customers have heard me talk about a “tipping point,” a point where market pressure causes a faster-than-normal increase in efficiency or decrease in fixture cost. I think we are nearing that price tipping point for many types of LED fixtures. We might see a modest 15% gain in LED fixture efficiency this year, but I am predicting a 33% drop in LED fixture cost.

CORRECT – This was a little bit like predicting that the sun will rise in the morning. I would say that the 33% drop that I predicted was probably even a little low, especially in the recessed troffer fixtures.

One of the ways that I predicted the manufacturers would produce less expensive fixtures was the “fewer LEDs driven harder” method. This was absolutely true and, in fact, you see a lot of manufacturers offering different drive currents within the same fixture families.

The thing that I didn’t see coming was the unexpected consequence of that design technique, which was an overall reduction in the rated lifetimes of fixtures. A couple years ago there was a race to 100,000 hours. Certainly there are still fixtures in that range, but a lot of the lower cost fixtures are now sitting in that 60,000 hour range. It’s an interesting trend and even more interesting given the fact that the major fluorescent manufacturers came out with 80,000+ hour rated premium T8 lamps in 2013.

Prediction #3. Color Quality Scale

What I said then: I think that Color Quality Scale (CQS) will start to push itself a bit more into the mainstream and begin elbowing out Color Rendering Index (CRI). Lighting designers know that 85 CRI LED looks far superior to 85 CRI fluorescent.

LEDs have found their way into retail in a big way with Multifaceted Reflector (MR) and PAR replacement lamps, but we’ll see more and more retail market penetration for general illumination now that the efficiency hurdle has been cleared. As retailers look more seriously at LED options, the CRI question will come up. “If the CRI for the LED is lower, then why does it look better?”

That’s where CQS comes in. We need a simpler answer than trying to explain the science behind CRI, drawing spectral power distribution charts, and trying to explain how fluorescent “cheats” the metric. Because of the markets LED fixtures are entering, 2013 is poised to be the year of CQS, and I’ll be out there doing my part to see that it happens.

INCORRECT – Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, I’m still stuck explaining the science behind this, but more manufacturers are starting to see red (pun intended). By this I mean R9 value for color rendering (R9 – R14 values are not used when calculating CRI). Manufacturers of LED fixtures intended for the retail market are seeing that there’s a marketing advantage to be gained by talking about the R9 value. In the end, it will probably be the fixture manufacturers that make the push towards a new scale, rather than the lamp manufacturers.

Prediction #4. Big Fish – Small Fish

What I said then: For lighting manufacturers, there are some advantages to being a small fish and some advantages to being a big fish. Typically the little fish can be a bit faster to market, whereas the big fish have the name recognition and stability that some customers demand. For many years the faster-to-market advantage was far outweighed by the name recognition. Technology wasn’t moving fast enough for a six-month difference in product release to really make much difference. Not so anymore. Six months can make a huge difference in the LED fixture world.

If a big fish wants to enter a new market, it makes sense for them to buy a little fish that already has a great product for that market. The highbay market is full of little (or medium) fish with great products and there is no doubt in my mind that a couple big fish will snatch up a couple little fish.

But what about the sharks? There are some big electronics companies out there already invested in LED at the die, chip and package level who might be able to get a big market advantage if they bought a big fish or two. I predict that 2013 will see one of these types of acquisitions, one that really sends a shockwave through the lighting world and shakes up the supply chain.

INCORRECT - There were not as many as expected. While we didn’t see the sharks eating, we saw a lot of circling as evidenced by LightFair. They were there with big booths, flashy new product websites, and so far, products that all look very similar … But that’s what it means to circle…to have a presence so they can educate themselves about their prey.

So what’s on the horizon for 2014? Stay tuned. I’ll have my new predictions out soon and well as a new series of monthly blogs titled “what’s new on the DLC” where I’m combing through the DLC Qualified Products List to report on trends in LED fixtures.


Tony Johnson is Energy Management Collaborative's Technology Manager. In this role he combines his background in lighting & controls design and solid state light fixture design with his expertise in energy savings to evaluate emerging technologies for EMC customers.