Why LED Lights Could Become the Brightest Idea of All

Smart lighting systems using LED technology could be the “killer app” for the Internet of Things, the burgeoning technology allowing devices, equipment and appliances to communicate with each other.

“Potentially, smart lighting is the gateway to the whole revolution of the IoT platform,” says Joe Lee, a senior industry analyst at MaRS Market Intelligence in Toronto.

The ubiquity of lighting in every corner of commerce and the home means that a shift to LED technology could rapidly lead to large-scale adoption of smart lighting technologies. LEDs, or light emitting diodes, can connect directly with sensors and software. That means they can be controlled by a smartphone, gestures or even artificial intelligence.

LEDs are already growing in popularity, particularly in commercial and industrial markets, because they use less energy and last longer than traditional bulbs.

By adding smart technology to LED lights, those energy savings can be magnified. An intelligent building might turn the lights off automatically on a sunny day or switch between different power sources. In regions where utility companies use time-variant pricing — charging different prices based on the time of day or the real-time cost of electricity — this could prove to be particularly attractive.

“There’s a huge cost and energy savings,” Lee says. “This is just such a better technology to deploy than the other types of light bulbs out there. LEDs have less environmental impact, too.”

While the purchase price of an LED light remains higher than a traditional bulb, prices are coming down. Lee says that he expects prices to go down further as the lights become more popular. According to Goldman Sachs Global Investment Research, market share for LEDs will grow from 28 per cent to 95 per cent by 2025.

Lighting the future

Jean-Marc Naud is one of the people developing the technology behind smart LEDs. He’s the leader of engineering for intelligent solutions at Current, powered by GE — a first-of-its-kind, holistic energy company, developed from one of GE’s technology centres in Montreal.

“All indoor and outdoor [lighting], we expect, will transition to LED lights over the next few years, because the benefits are so significant,” says Naud. “We see it as an opportunity to embed software, connectivity, controls and sensors in order to make what we call intelligent environments.”

He says the cost of adding these additional features to LED lighting systems is relatively low. And since many companies are already in the process of replacing their lighting systems with LED, it’s the perfect opportunity to take smart-lighting systems mainstream.

“Through that infrastructure, we can have ubiquitous sensors and with those sensors combined to the software in the cloud, the analytics, we can create intelligent buildings,” says Naud. “The main application for Current to start with is energy saving, but intelligent lighting unlocks important outcomes for our customers past energy.”

For example, the team has developed an LED application that uses light frequency to create a local positioning system that helps shoppers navigate aisles via maps on their smartphones The same technology, which is being tested at several retailers in the United States, could also send shoppers cereal coupons as they walk the cereal aisle or help retailers detect when shelves are near empty.

And as shopper behavior continues to evolve — 70 per cent to 89 per cent of customers are using smartphones in stores, according to Opus Research — the extra insights and marketing that these intelligent LEDs deliver can help give retailers the edge they need to compete.

Moreover, retail is only one application. Consider healthcare. Studies show that nurses can spend up to 30 per cent of their time looking for equipment. Much of that time could be saved with lighting technology that guides them to the tools they need.

Most people, however, will experience the benefits of LED technology on the streets where they live or the places they go daily. Imagine a street light that scans for open parking spots or helps you find the fastest route home. That’s being tested by cities today.

For Naud, the approach is an iterative one. “In order to learn about the market, you need to be in the market,” he says. “We’re learning and we’re growing with our customers.”

By 2025, 100 billion internet-connected devices will be in use around the world, according to Huawei Technologies. The IoT has a total potential economic impact of $3.9 trillion to $11.1 trillion a year by 2025, according to McKinsey & Co.

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