Cree, Inc. is at it again. The company that is virtually synonymous with LEDs and innovation in LED lighting has unveiled another break-through – SmartCast™ Technology – that may have a powerful impact on the commercial lighting market. While Cree has been active in the commercial lighting sector since 2008, SmartCast is the company’s first foray into the lighting controls market, which is estimated to be $1.7 billion in the U.S. and expected by Greentech Media to triple by 2020.
SmartCast Technology is the first self-programmable wireless lighting controls system, which incorporates both daylight harvesting and occupancy sensing technology into a single integrated platform. The technology will be incorporated directly into Cree LED luminaires, allowing each fixture to ‘talk’ to the others.
Cree’s vice president for product strategy – Mike Watson – characterizes SmartCast Technology as “a self-configuring wireless network,” which can optimize the illumination in a space, and he’s bullish about the prospects. Watson comments that that the global lighting market is huge, at an estimated $1 trillion, with 80 percent of that in the commercial sector. He also notes that between the daylight harvesting diming capabilities and the occupancy sensors, you can save up to 40 percent of the electricity which otherwise would have been consumed. If applied to the entire U.S. commercial lighting sector, (based on figures he cites from Navigant), SmartCast could save $12 billion annually.
Watson indicated that Cree came out with SmartCast Technology because the company saw an opportunity that was largely unaddressed to date: neither occupancy sensors nor daylight harvesting technologies are new, but they are under-utilized. “Less than 2 percent of the commercial space in the U.S. has daylight harvesting capabilities, and most systems that have daylight harvesting or occupancy sensors aren’t even used after the first year.” It is expected that this approach will also help Cree to sell more LED luminaires.
The challenge was to provide savings “in the simplest form, at the lowest cost” in order to spur broad adoption. According to Watson,
You simply push one button after you install the lights and the system self-configures to get the maximum result from the occupancy and daylighting sensors. There are no wires. The whole thing runs independently of complex building controls systems.
Watson compared the SmartCast lighting experience to setting up your sound system,
It has an algorithm that allows you to have a consistent amount of light across a defined space. The light on every surface would be the same. But you can also have multiple zones. It’s like audio where you set the sound the same for the space you are in.
Can one compare its behavior to the NEST thermostat?
It functions like the NEST in terms of simplicity, but you don’t have to be integrated to the internet. It optimizes lighting to the environment. The stimuli are external light through windows and motion. That’s it. This is as close to screwing in a light bulb as you get.
Some industry observers have been favorably impressed with the technology. The blog Solid State Lighting Design commented recently,
At last week’s US Department of Energy sponsored R&D Workshop, virtually every talk at the luminaire or control level confirmed that lighting will be getting smarter, and adapting itself to the space, and to the real needs of the users that reside in the space…Cree’s SmartCast might very well be seen in a role analogous to how the iPhone embodied what we thought smartphones should be — simple, intuitive, and purposeful. It this case the role will likely be seen as “pivotal,” in the sense it is an autonomous, integrated, self-configuring solution that is easy to use, and from a company with a very visible market position.
Cree is not quite alone in this space. GreenTech Media (GTM) notes that competitors such as Redwood Systems and others have also recently developed easy-to-install wireless systems. GTM reports that Philips came out last April with a product called SpaceWise, featuring a wireless controls system integrated into its luminaires. The Philips press release on SpaceWise also touts occupancy sensing and daylight harvesting.
Cree’s Watson observes that the uptake of lighting controls systems such as SmartCast will be driven both by the favorable economics and new building codes such as the California codes or ASHRAE standards. However, he insists that codes are only useful if the underlying technologies are good.
No one should buy our products because the government tells you to. You should buy them because they are simpler and they are better. The products cannot be compromised in any way.
Prior to product launch, Cree had installed pilots at North Carolina State University and LORD Corporation (pictured below), with results giving them confidence to roll out the product.
When asked how soon Cree would know whether the launch of SmartCast Technology should be considered a success, Watson responded that with a new product release, “We typically know right away. We have a strong sense that there is a great deal of interest, but we will know when we get more installations out there.”
Cree’s low cost, easy-to-install lighting controls system will harvest free sunlight and put an end to wasteful illumination of unoccupied space. And building owners get a powerful tool in reducing overall energy spend and getting more bang for their energy buck. All of this is good for the environment and for the overall economy.