March 2015

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AHR Chicago: Not So enLIGHTening

The Next Big Thing had an Itty-bitty Presence

Andy McMillanAndy McMillan
Strategy Consultant
BACnet International

Contributing Editor

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Walking the AHR show floor and listening to conversations at the nearby bars is always instructive.  In addition, it’s often a useful way to get a line on what will be the Next Big Thing in the arena of building automation.  Not so this year, though.  In fact, the biggest thing on the horizon for building automation was hardly present at all.  I’m talking, of course, about an emerging category of lighting automation solutions that focus on creating new value in existing buildings.  The impact of these solutions and the companies that provide them will be dramatic because they will change the way the market works. 

Value Creation Is the Key

Traditionally, most automation projects are framed as energy optimization efforts.  The primary driver is return on investment, measured in terms of cost reductions and/or sustainability enhancements.  The emergence of cost-effective LED lighting and associated controls will allow suppliers to provide dynamic lighting solutions that change the value of the building by making its utilization more productive.  That means:

•    Retail spaces where customers spend more,
•    Hospitals where customer stays are shorter,
•    Schools where students learn faster, and
•    Offices where more work gets done.

As I pointed out in a panel discussion at Connection Community Collaboratory Chicago AHR, the shift from cost reduction to value creation changes everything, starting with the economic buyer.  In the energy saving scenario the economic buyer is a senior facilities executive with CFO input.  In the value creation scenario, the project is directly mission-relevant so the economic buyer becomes the CEO.  And we all know that when the CEO wants something done, it gets done.

Not Really New

When I talked about this at the AHR show I was pressed a bit on the idea that light can have enough impact on people to create real value that can be measured.  But the truth is that researchers have known for a long time that light can have a dramatic impact on behavior.  That knowledge has not moved from research to products because much of light’s impact has to do with changing the light over time – changing its color temperature, its intensity and even its angle of incidence.   These are very expensive things to do with conventional lighting.  Not so with LEDs, though.  Finding innovative ways to translate the science of light into practical systems is going to be a huge part of the automation industry. 

The Rest of the Story

[an error occurred while processing this directive] What will the automation industry look like when this happens?  Well, I don’t know exactly, but I’m sure we’ll have to learn some new concepts.  For example, have you ever heard of “curated lighting experiences”?   If not, do a Google search on it and you’ll find yourself led to a smart lighting company called LumiFi.  Their approach embeds the science of light into an app. Others might choose to embed the science of light in a device.  Perhaps others, a service.  It’s hard to know how many ways innovative companies will find to leverage the science of light to create new value in commercial spaces.  But, what’s not hard to figure out is that as it happens, lighting will move to the center of the building automation industry.  And as that movement because more obvious, it’s a good bet we’ll see lighting shine a little brighter at AHR.

Editor's Note:  Please check out more of Andy's thoughts during the Q&A portion of the videos for Connection Community Collaboratory Chicago
As always, the views expressed in this column are mine and do not necessarily reflect the position of BACnet International, ASHRAE, or any other organization.  If you want to send comments to me directly, feel free to email me at


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