The Limits of a ‘Standard’ Observer

I tell my students that we’re lighting designers not scientists, but that it’s good to understand some of the science that underpins our work.  This is especially true when the science is out of date and produces results that don’t necessarily agree with our vision and/or perception.  It’s frustrating and amazing to me that as individuals we’d never agree to use a broadcast only TV and give up our modern cable and internet channels. We’d never agree to use a flip phone and miss out on all of the upgrades and improvements that have been developed over the years. Yet as an industry we seem perfectly happy to continue to use 75+ year old technology with known flaws when we calculate color rendering, measure brightness, plot chromaticity in color spaces, etc.  Our industry doesn’t seem interested in “upgrading” to get the latest features like less metameric mismatch and measurements that better align with our vision and perception. But, I continue to shout into the void about these things.

One of these topics is the standard observer. This article, online and in the current issue of LD+A, looks at the problems that can arise from continuing to rely on the 1931 standard observer, and not “upgrading” to the 1964 or 2015 standard observers.

IoT Lighting? No Thanks.

The current global cyber-attack, combined with last year’s “denial of service attack has me thinking about the lighting industry and IoT.

It was ironic that last year’s attack happened just days before the IES annual conference, at which IoT lighting was touted as the next big thing that everyone had to adopt or be left behind. You may recall that one aspect of that attack was that hackers recruited IoT devices like thermostats and smoke detectors. Many designers may think, “Well, sure, homeowners don’t have good security, but that wouldn’t happen to one of my corporate clients.” The current attack shows the flaw in that thinking. New tools have allowed hackers access to supposedly secure networks, and not all networks that should be secure (such as Britain’s NHS) actually are.

The question, then, is, “Why should my lighting system use IoT?” I’ve asked several friends in lighting design firms large and small and the answers I’ve received are revealing. Almost no one has a client who is asking for this. (I’ve had exactly one client who wanted the lighting system connected to the corporate LAN.) Do they want lighting systems connected to their BMS? If the client is knowledgeable and the building is large, yes, although today’s lighting systems have so many programming options we don’t need the BMS to control the lighting system. Do they want lighting systems to use Wi-Fi so that users can adjust the lights from phones and pads? Not very often. “Why would I want to give that many people authorization to change the lighting?” is the question asked, and rightly so. Do they want light fixtures with IP addresses and built-in Wi-Fi, Li-Fi, daylight sensors, occupancy sensors, temperature sensors, humidity sensors, and software that tracks shoppers or monitors space usage? “How much will that cost?” is the usual first question, followed by a strong “No.”

If we designers don’t see an artistic or operational advantage to these systems, and if our clients don’t see an advantage and aren’t asking for these systems, why all the noise about them? The answer, of course, isn’t better lighting design or increased energy efficiency, it’s money. Companies like Cisco see expanded profits from embedding Cisco sensors in every light fixture in a building, connecting all of those fixtures to Cisco POE switches and perhaps controlling the fixtures and sensors with Cisco software. Fixture manufacturers, always looking for a way to differentiate their products, jump on board. Marketing departments create hype, magazines and web sites need material, and voila! the next “must have” lighting system feature.

Who’s providing network security? The corporate IT department, I guess. Are the lighting systems vulnerable to hacking? The current and recent attacks tell us the answer is, “Yes.” Are manufacturers of IoT devices investing in security? Not really. They see it as the responsibility of someone upstream. Would anyone want a lighting system that is vulnerable to being turned off in an emergency, or reprogrammed by someone just to see if they can do it? No.

Some of the lighting systems I am designing are quite complex involving hundreds of fixtures with hundreds of addresses, multiple control protocols, and multiple points of control including touchscreens and Wi-Fi devices. One thing no one has to worry about, though, is high-jacking or corruption of the system. Each system stands alone. Software updates, if they are ever needed, are downloaded and installed via a USB key. Anyone wanting access to the system has to be within Wi-Fi range and has to hack the network. What would they get? Access to a single lighting system. There’s almost no reward and therefore there’s almost no incentive. Call me a Luddite if you like, but for now I’m going to stick to designing secure, flexible systems that provide my clients with only the features that they want at a price they are willing to pay. I’m sure that the pressure to “innovate” will eventually lead me to using these IoT systems. But for security’s sake I’m going to resist for as long as I can.

MIT Creates Incandescent Lamp As Efficient as LEDs

Researchers at MIT and Purdue University have demonstrated an incandescent lamp with an efficacy of 6.6 percent, and with a potential efficacy as high as 40 percent. The paper was published in the April issue of Nature Nanotechnology. The demonstration compares favorably to current low efficacy fluorescent and LED lamps, while the upper limit is double the current maximum efficacy for fluorescents and LEDs.

The lamp uses a flat filament, rather than the coil of typical incandescent lamps, that is held between two plates of glass with a coating similar to a dichroic reflector, which the researchers call a photonic crystal. The plates permit visible light to pass through them, but reflect the infrared light back to the filament further heating it and producing more light. This idea has been with us for a while now, with most major lamp manufacturers producing some version of an IR halogen lamp. The main difference is that the new dichroic-like coating is much more efficient than the coatings currently in use and works at a much wider range of wavelengths and angles.

This is great news for those of us who haven’t bought into the idea that LEDs will make everyone happy, make all of our children above average, and help the country win the war. Between the low LPDs of the current versions of Standard 90.1 and other energy conservation codes, and the high efficacy of LEDs, most of us are compelled to use LEDs as the primary light source in many of our projects whether we want to or not. LEDs are great, but they’re not the best design choice for every application. As my students and readers of my book know, I regard energy efficiency as an important consideration in any lighting design, but not the primary goal. My first goal is to understand and deliver the desired look and feel of the space I’m lighting while providing appropriate light levels. My second goal is to explore the possible techniques and technologies that I can use to achieve my first goal. My third goal is to use the most energy efficient option from among the best options.

As a designer whose primary concern is the quality of the living/working/shopping environment I’m helping to create, I want to have as many tools at my disposal as possible, not just LEDs. At this point, it seems that lamp and fixture manufacturers are fully embracing the LED with very little attention paid to other light sources, with the possible exception of the OLED. If this experimental lamp becomes commercialized, we’d be able to use inexpensive, tried-and-true dimming technologies that deliver the performance we want without any of the problems associated with fluorescents and LEDs (flickering, flashing, dimming curves that are too flat or too steep, inability to dim smoothly to 0%, high cost, etc.).

This lamp wouldn’t be a solution for all lighting situations of course, in the same way that the LED isn’t a solution for all situations, but it would allow us to have true incandescent light in any application that called for it without running afoul of energy conservation codes.

OLEDs Are Ready For Their Closeup

Last week I attended a webinar on the history, future, and application of OLEDs presented by Dietmar Thomas of Philips.  It was an interesting and informative hour that has just been posted online.  Perhaps the most surprising thing is that Philips sees commercial lighting fixtures lamped almost exclusively with LEDs and OLEDs as soon as 2020!  The webinar is worth the time.  Take a look.

Now, the Good Climate News

Ok, the headline is slightly misleading. There’s no good news about the fact of climate change, but there is some good news about the politics and the technology for mitigating it. First, the politics where there are several encouraging developments. First, as I’ve previously mentioned, Michael Bloomberg, Henry Paulson, and Tom Steyer have launched an organization called Risky Business that focuses on quantifying and publicizing the economic risks from the impacts of climate change. Politics makes strange bedfellows, and this is an example – people from across the political spectrum and with various perspectives on business and the economy coming together to advocate that we act now to do what we can to slow or stop climate change.

The second piece of news happened at a congressional hearing on June 18th (an archived webcast is available at the link). Four former EPA administrators, all republicans, were called to testify before the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. All four of them agreed that there is no debate on the reality of climate change and that immediate action is needed. Here are a few quotes:

William Ruckelshaus, first EPA administrator in 1970 under President Nixon: “Inherent in [a list of previously cited environmental challenges] was uncertain science and powerful economic interests resisting controls. The same is true of climate change. In all of the cases cited the solutions to the problems did not result in the predicted economic and social calamity. Scientific uncertainty or the inevitable industry resistance does not mean that nothing should be done unless we are willing to suffer the consequences of inaction.”

Lee Thomas, EPA administrator from 1985-1989 under President Reagan: “The issue of climate change is one that the EPA and the global scientific community have studied and analyzed for decades. And since my time as Administrator, the assessment of risk global warming poses to public health and the environment has continually improved and become more certain.”

William Reilly, head of the EPA from 1989-1992 under President George H. W. Bush: “Markets the world over eagerly seek clean energy technologies. … Technology and innovation are a comparative advantage for our country that will help control what we can and help find ways to replace the most serious contributors to the climate challenge. This is an enormous opportunity for U.S. entrepreneurs and exporters even as we deploy more clean energy at home.”

Christine Todd Whitman, EPA head from 2001-2003 under President George W. Bush: “Congressional action and leadership would be a preferable approach. But since Congress has declined to act, the EPA must.”

It’s getting harder and harder for the conservative crowd to deny reality. Sooner, not later, they’re going to have to admit that we face a global challenge. At that point they’ll have to decide if the U.S. is going to lead or follow. Industry and citizens clearly intend to lead. Consider the following:

On the technology front there’s more good news. In Hawaii the adoption of solar power has been so successful that the local power company can’t handle the power being fed into the grid. Beginning in December of 2013 the Hawaiian Electric Company told contractors to stop connecting solar panels to the grid because there’s so much energy that it may be a threat to the system. Until studies can confirm whether grid upgrade are needed, and what they are, solar panels can still be connected to homes and businesses but the excess energy cannot be fed back into the grid.

One solution to the problem is storage of the excess energy until it is needed. A new type of battery that uses vanadium in a solution of sulfuric acid is being developed that quickly charges and discharges with little loss of performance, even after 20,000 cycles. It’s called a vanadium redox flow battery. Read the article. It’s pretty amazing to read how smart people are able to solve whatever challenges are put in front of them.

What’s Old Is New Again

Earlier this week the New York Times had an interesting, although not very informative, article about two new lamp manufacturers and their technologies.  The first is Finally, a Massachusetts based company that is using an old technology, induction, to generate light.  Induction lamps are very similar to fluorescent lamps except that they do not have electrodes or filaments, which are a fluorescent lamp’s most common points of failure. Instead of an electric arc passing through the gas-filled tube, induction lamps use an electromagnetic field to excite the gas.  Like fluorescent lamps, mercury in the lamp produces UV light, which excites phosphors on the lamp envelope to create visible light. Induction lighting has been on the market for many years from other manufacturers.  The advantages of induction include very long life, good color rendering, no flicker, and instant start and restrike.  The drawback to the other induction lamps is that the equipment producing the electromagnetic field is bulky.  The Finally lamp manufacturer has found a way to shrink the equipment to the size of the ballast in a typical retrofit CFL lamp.  The only drawback is that it cannot dim with conventional wallbox dimmers.

The second lamp is the Vu1.  It too uses an old technology in a new way.  The Vu1 is essentially a cathode ray tube, just like old televisions and computer monitors.  It fires a stream of electrons at phosphors embedded in a glass plate, which in turn produce light.  It does not contain mercury, is instant on, has excellent color rendering, and is dimmable.  It is currently available as an R30 replacement lamp.

Since both of these lamps are designed for the retrofit market, they aren’t likely to be specified by lighting designers.  Nonetheless, I’m looking forward to seeing them in operation, and I’m excited to see some alternatives to LEDs.  It will be interesting to see where these two technologies go in the next few years.