Archive for February, 2011

Photo from Philips Press Release

When the electric lamp was introduced at the turn of the century, the first push for product was to create retrofit kits for gas lamps. They ran one wire down the pipe and used the pipe steel as the neutral/ground. The first fittings screwed into the gas lantern where the mantle and burner mounted. This was seen as an important first step. So was the business of creating new electric table and wall lamps that looked like candle holders, oil lamps, and gas lamps from lanterns to shaded products once shielding a glass enclosure for the flame based light source.

In 110 years since, the commercial market has abandoned all of this to use the new technologies, from incandescent to fluorescent and HID, in new product forms enabled by the technology. This is why the commercial market today is reasonably efficient, given the state of the source technologies in use. It is also why most commercial lighting will be all new product designs using SSL in new ways. While it seems retrofit PAR lamps are a good fit, in fact, most lighting upgrades are installing new products, dedicated LED product, from cove lights to display, and recessed down and troffer lighting. Most commercial products today could not exist within the limits of gas lighting, while even more cannot work without fluorescent or HID. Soon, there will be a growing range of SSL product not possible otherwise – as it should be.

On the other hand, pandering to the residential market has produced a condition where the design vocabulary remains founded on retrofitting of gas, oil, and wax light source technologies. Table lamps and sconces today in this segment would look as home in 1889 as they do today. Retrofitting these exposed lamp products with CFL has been a disastrous mix of  bad performance and horrible lighting quality. Retrofit versions of one of the only new designs to strike residential – the ceiling bent glass light – is truly awful when lamped with CFL. <br><br>I am amused and a little bewilderment that we are going to use LEDs to retrofit the electric lamps that are just retrofits of gas and oil lanterns. This causes consumers to make the direct comparison in the exact same fixture, between two technologies of completely different lineage, often resulting in dissatisfaction. Part of the failure of CFLs as retrofits, is they cannot stand up to a direct comparison with the beloved incandescent lamp, in the same product, side-by-side. New products that offer  no direct comparison, allows the new technology to deliver new value, on its own terms. The incandescent lamp is a wonderful light source, if you ignore life, fragility and energy use – which is exactly what the residential market has done for 50 years. LEDs will never produce an exactly equal one-for-one replacement, they will always be compromised as a retrofit, as the retrofit architecture compromises the technology to fit an obsolete form factor. However, there is infinite opportunity in deploying SSL products that beat incandescent lamps for light quality and aesthetics, that make the old burner lamps look like big black phenolic rotary phones.

Consumers replace old products all the time, of value well beyond that of table lamps and a few sconces. From phones and entertainment gear to cars, furniture, and homes (average stay is just 7 years, so there is no truly inseparable connection between the content of any home building), pressing for a replacement of the old lighting junk, only delays adoption. Manufacturers should be focusing on deploying products that entice customers to move from their old obsolete product to new and better energy efficient products. This has been played out in the telecommunications market, entertainment market, electronic game market, computer market, automotive market, etc… It can be put in place here, if that is made the focus. In street lighting, the leading solution selected is all new LED street lights, not retrofit lamps – for good reason – it is the best approach. Same applies to garage lighting, down-lighting, cove linear lighting, display case lighting, and a growing range of new SSL products being installed to replace obsolete incandescent, fluorescent and HID products. Change is not an issue – when it delivers good value. When retrofits are seen as the preferred solution – this indicates a failure of the market to deliver lighting products of greater value than the compromised retrofit solution.

It my own view that the money being offered by the government as a reward for creating a direct replacement lamp should be spent in stead on awarding manufacturers who innovate new and improved high efficiency lighting to replace incandescent products of all types, including delivering new products that satisfy residential aesthetic interests without continuing a third generation legacy of obsolete light sources.

I respect those pursuing quality retrofit lamp offerings, and accept that my views are not yet widely shared. However, that does not mean I agree with the approach, or promote it as a valid or desirable approach, as there is no such thing as universal truth. We should all feel free to pursue this transformational period in any way we feel is the best fit. In the end, what wins will be what sells, which will likely be a broad array of product from retrofits, to all new products that change lighting in some way.

The sooner we take on the task of moving from horses dragging wood wheel carts around dirt roads, and look ahead to putting SSL to work in new ways to deliver exciting new value, the sooner the interest in retrofit lamps will fade – just as the interest in rabbit ears on console televisions, 8 track tapes, pong games, and stand alone PDAs has. This takes a concerted and focused effort, not a short sighted vision using seemingly easy paths.

Think about this: As we discuss this issue, recognizing that the incandescent lamp is obsolete, the availability of retrofit lamps is enabling decorative residential product manufacturers to continue to make, market, and sell all new products with Edison sockets. With no pressure to change, and plenty of excuses not to, when exactly do we make the real transformation from one technology to another? While fitting retrofit lamps into valuable legacy products does make some sense – allowing new products to continue and advance this as a new product approach is ridiculous.

For these reasons, I do not directly support, nor do I support my tax money being spent on subsidizing, the advancement of retrofit lamp deployment as a priority. If it is going to exist, it should do so on its own as a short term patch, with every other effort focused on moving forward, encouraging manufacturers to move away from obsolete platforms, and rewarding innovators for leadings us into the future.

The challenge is not getting consumers at all levels to swap light bulbs in familiar products – the challenge is in creating new value that is irresistible to them, that causes the market to abandon its familiar obsolete products to capture this value for themselves. This will not come from clumsy fix ups and compromised solutions.