LED Lighting–The Utility and Lighting Industry Partnership

by Penni McLean-Conner, NSTAR

LED lighting is off and running! This exciting technology shows potential to change the way we look at our world. And a novel partnership among utility and state program managers and manufacturers of commercial luminaires is ensuring the change goes well.

Light-emitting diodes (LEDs) have been used as instrument indicators since the ’60s, to power exit signs since the ’80s and traffic lights since the ’90s. In these applications LEDs have proven themselves valuable because of their low power consumption and long lifetimes. But we’ve all been waiting for the grand prize, general illumination, and it is finally here.

Around 2008, developments in LED lighting finally converged to make the technology available to light our homes, businesses and roadways. The trick was to raise output, efficiency and color performance of white light and to reduce initial cost. But there’s a catch: Quality and performance are critical at this early stage in LED lighting.

We can’t afford to repeat mistakes in a rush to market. People in all corners of the lighting industry remember problems during the switch from standard fluorescent to energy-saver lamps and electronic ballasts in the mid-’80s and more recently during the introduction of compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) in the early ’90s. In both cases poor performance created bad reputations for the new technologies, and it took years of public relations to win back market share.

It took more than 15 years to get past the bad reputation, but now a commodity-grade fluorescent luminaire is about the most efficient and highest-performing ighting source in business buildings. And $2 CFLs are everywhere: homes, businesses, institutions, everywhere. LEDs are ready, and this time we can’t afford to hit a 15-year speed bump.

To keep the momentum in LED adoption and ensure quality and performance, utility program managers formed a partnership with the lighting industry. The DesignLights Consortium (DLC), a project of Northeast Energy Efficiency Partnerships (NEEP) involving groups of utility, state, provincial and regional programs, manages a Qualified Products List of LED luminaires for commercial and institutional applications. When customers seek incentives, information or rebates for LED lighting projects, the program managers check whether the proposed fixtures are on the DLC list. If so, they know the equipment will meet manufacturers’ claims of quality and performance.

A key component to advancing the LED lighting industry is the partnership between utilities and manufacturers. A benefit of the DLC Qualified Products List is that participating manufacturers must submit product data only once to serve more than 50 programs in the U.S. and Canada. Manufacturers and utilities can work together to increase product sales and move forward research and development to increase product performance and drive down costs. With all of these pieces in place, LEDs are poised to take off in a big way.

To add luminaires to the Qualified Products List, manufacturers must meet stiff DLC hurdles. DLC posts strict specifications in seven parameters across 19 categories of commercial luminaires. The categories cover outdoor and indoor applications including area and roadway lighting, refrigerator case lighting, industrial lighting and ceiling lighting for office areas. The specification parameters include photometric properties such as light output, distribution, color properties and lumen maintenance and electric properties such as wattage and efficacy.

To apply for qualification, manufacturers must provide data and reports from approved independent testing laboratories of specified tests according to industry standard procedures. DLC modeled its procedures after work done by the Department of Energy (DOE), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Energy Star to keep processes standard and valid and keep participating manufacturers in familiar territory. DLC keeps close contact with DOE and EPA advisors in setting policies and procedures and also involves manufacturers because they will be the primary users of the resulting resources. The DLC solid-state lighting, commercial Qualified Products List contains more than 6,000 luminaires from more than 100 manufacturers. And new applications are arriving all the time. In 2010, DLC added 600 products to the Qualified Products List. Since the beginning of 2011, more than 10 times that number have been added. View the list and specifications at http://designlights.org.

LED lighting promises to change how we see our world. It offers quality, performance, control, flexibility and energy savings. Thanks to this partnership between utilities and manufacturers, we will make the transition with speed and ease.


Penni McLean-Conner is the vice president of customer care at NSTAR, the largest investor-owned electric and gas utility in Massachusetts. McLean-Conner, a registered professional engineer, serves on several industry boards of directors, including the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative and CS Week. Her latest book, “Energy Efficiency: Principles and Practices,” is available at http://pennwellbooks.com.

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