Fight or Flight: Facing the Expanding Universe of Lighting

Fight or Flight: Facing the Expanding Universe of Lighting

By Mark Lien LC, CLEP, CLMC, HBDP, LEED BD&C, Director, Government & Industry Relations, Osram Sylvania

Sun on space background. 10 EPS file with transparency effects and overlapping colors

As our world grows more connected, it expands the lighting universe. Globalization is accelerating and lighting products are increasingly connecting to other trades, forcing us to learn about industries previously peripheral or unrelated to lighting.

Apps unite lighting with HVAC, door locks, thermostats, smoke alarms, window treatments, coffee pots, cameras, sensors, and more. Lighting has expanded to include features such as changing colors, timers, sensors that detect movement, blinking to alert us to phone calls, syncing to music, video surveillance, data collection, Wi-Fi, and much more.

Complexity increases as the lighting community expands. It becomes more difficult to comprehend the overwhelming amount of new information, especially as it relates to compatibility and interconnectedness. Lighting professionals are having a difficult time staying ahead of the rapidly evolving shift to solid state. If the professionals are struggling, imagine the effect on consumers.

Adding by Subtracting

The industry must look to add value by simplifying the changes; understanding and distilling the new lighting world will be a positive differentiator. Educating ourselves—and educating selectively based on customer needs—will pay dividends. Learning is always important, but in times of change it is elevated to a critical level. Many of our customers understand legacy technology, but that foundation is of little use as electronics companies increasingly provide digital light sources, luminaires, and controls.

The lighting industry has progressed further in the past decade than in the previous century, and that progress is accelerating. Futurist Ray Kurzweil projects that nanobots will connect our neocortex to the cloud in about 15 years. Before this game-changer arrives and before we discuss new solid-state illumination, cybersecurity, nanotechnology, architectural laser lights, graphene light sources, and exponential growth curves, we should begin with the end in mind. That will allow us to focus on the time between today and the day when lighting is integrated into the electrical infrastructure of buildings and applications, before our brain activity controls lighting that is self-learning and adaptable for our health needs and personal preferences.

Acceleration is relative. When everything is moving in the same direction, as the spinning earth reveals, our perspective is skewed and we may not accurately sense the velocity. Many of the industries adjacent to lighting are also changing, and our lighting community is poised to converge with them and expand beyond current business intersections.

Companies that have survived or flourished in a reactive mode, intentionally just behind the bleeding edge to minimize risk (and save on research and development), may be out of business already and just not know it yet. Risk increases if one drives too slowly on an expressway; similarly, as speed limits are removed, our lighting autobahn becomes less regulated and faces enhanced danger from the opposite extreme. Survival now requires responses faster than last year’s Garmin can deliver.

Fight, Not Flight

Our reaction to the fear evoked by this dangerous pace can result in either paralysis or adrenaline. With massive change occurring all around us, paralysis is not a viable option for survival.

This is not a wake-up call—that should already have happened. Success requires faster response, which involves learned skill, experience, and risk. Our intuition is based on an increasingly irrelevant past and can no longer be trusted without modification, if not a complete reset.

Our response to the roar of change around us can be fight or flight. We can get out now and try to minimize the consequence, or we can charge into unfamiliar territory, trusting our instincts and our team. In this new terrain, size may prove an impediment rather than a security advantage.

Our companies have evolved to manage scarcity. Ownership worked well for scarcity, but accessing or sharing works better in an information-based world. While the information-based world is moving exponentially faster, our organizational structures are still very linear. Any company designed for success in the 20th century is doomed to fail in the 21st.

The future is non-linear. To understand this, think of photography. It was based on a scarcity model, with a cost per photo (about $1) that encouraged photographers to conserve film and processing. With digital technology, the total cost is the same whether the photographer takes five pictures or 500. Even storage has become all but free. With digital photos, consumers have applied facial and image recognition, darkroom techniques, and word processing options like move, cut, and copy. They have become publishers as smaller, high-quality cameras have more affordable. Its future is non-linear.

Growth = Free?

What if energy becomes all but free and the scarcity model no longer applies?

The lighting industry moved slowly for more than a century. Plotting trajectories was simple: Put a push pin in to mark the lumens per watt (LPW), kilowatt hour (kWh) rate, energy code requirements, or any other measurement, plotted against a timeline. The path could be projected years ahead.

Now, however, it is difficult to track the rate of change and to project those changes. Current projections of the cost of an LED replacement for a 60-watt lamp put the cost around $11 each, dropping to $4 by 2020. On the most recent Black Friday, LED replacements were featured at a large home-center chain for 99 cents, with everyday pricing at $1.99. The projections were linear, but the costs decreased exponentially.

The electronics world has exponential growth algorithms in their DNA. Moore’s law proposed in 1965 that the density of transistors in an integrated circuit doubles every year. In 1975, the law was revised to every two years, which has held true since. It is expected to slow in 2020 when the paradigm shifts to 3D circuits, which will then continue the biennial exponential growth pattern.

Consider that 10 years ago we had 500 million internet-connected devices; today, we have 8 billion; and we are expected to have 50 billion by 2025 and one trillion by 2035. Information enables our world, and we are merely one percent down this road. We need to adjust our intuition based on this large-scale reality.

The U.S. Department of Energy predicts that, by 2020, LED outdoor lighting will account for 75 percent of the installed base; interior lighting will account for 48 percent. This is up from 10 and three percent, respectively, at the close of 2014.

As our world grows more connected, the lighting universe is expanding rapidly. We are moving beyond borders established over the past century into uncharted territory. We can plot a trajectory, but we need to change from the business models that made us successful to those that have helped electronics and IT companies thrive amid change at an exponential rate.

If you have not started down this path, it may be too late. If you have, fight complacency, stay alert, and watch with vigilance!

This piece was originally published in the February 2016 issue of ei, the magazine of the electroindustry.

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