Lighting & HVAC
The convergence of smart commercial lighting and biophilia
By Isabel Freire
By Isabel Freire
June 16, 2020 – As I write this, I am lucky enough to be able to somewhat offset the stresses of self-isolation of COVID-19 with a home office with windows. The ability to relax with exposure to the outside world should not come as a surprise, as we all are programmed to look for connections to nature. This concept is known as biophilia.
Although in its relative infancy from a commercial perspective, biophilic design seeks to incorporate nature into indoor settings. This design may include direct interaction with nature: through a win-dow, or the plants in a room, for example; or indirectly, through nature prints on wallpaper, a water feature, or simulated lighting to mimic the outdoors.
When populations get the all clear to go back to work, school, the dentist—and even to the hospital for an elective health procedure—those businesses that will have thought ahead to societal changes and differing demands and expectations will be the ones who will be most successful… expectations such as having improved lighting environments.
Shifting from saving money to making it
As Warren Buffett said, “The best chance to deploy capital is when things are going down.” In the analyst world (of which I was a part), we were writing reports about “outcomes” and “ROI” only a few years ago. Now, there are numerous case studies on how manufacturers, cities and other customers have saved money by investing in predictive maintenance, or installing smart lighting.
As smart lighting use cases become mainstream, as with most successful IoT solutions, the next phase of IoT solutions will not only cater to cost savings. Companies that are visionaries do not stay in that phase since there are two sides to successful businesses—saving money and making money—and they will focus on the latter to survive and thrive over time. Companies who create completely new products and solutions also create a market and market share. Biophilic design may be one of those next-generation IoT solutions.
Turning to smart lighting, arguably the market is mature enough in terms of being able to offer a cost-savings proposition to now start looking at how to create new products that provide differing benefits such as improved performance or productivity. Biophilic design is having something of a moment right now in interiors.
Everywhere you turn, there are floral prints, plants, tropical patterns, and other attempts to bring the outdoors inside. The ability to incorporate IoT into this trend is part of the smart lighting industry’s need to create new products: moving beyond the customer’s KPI of ROI, to those that are created through improving aesthetics and environment: increased productivity, patient outcomes and student learning.
This category of lighting that looks at its effects on people is called human-centric lighting.
Companies like MondeVerde in Sweden are at the forefront of creating these new opportunities by merging smart lighting with biophilic design. It offers smart lighting that attempts to mimic outdoor lighting conditions in commercial and public sector environments. It employs sensors to adjust lighting according to outdoor conditions, so uses less energy when outside conditions are brighter, and more energy when it is darker outside.
Of note, there is a field of study that is doing increasing amounts of research into how trying to ad-just people’s circadian rhythms benefits them physiologically, which then results in improvements in health and productivity. Circadian rhythms map when a person is naturally going to benefit from greater light and from darker conditions, which is essentially the rhythms to which people were ex-posed before the advent of electricity, and industrial and urban lighting. Consequently, brightest and whitest light is best in the mornings, with a person’s need for it decreasing during the course of the day.
At present, industrial lighting standards—such as the ones in force in the EU—state a minimum amount of light required in a typical office is 500 lux all through the day, and even less for schools. In stark contrast, an overcast sky at midday would provide 5000 lux; a sunny day would provide 100,000 lux (and, in the shade, 20,000 lux). The colour of light in offices also does not come close to the tones outdoors, which are bluer in morning and redder in afternoon; morning sunshine is 7000K, and 5000K by afternoon. Office lighting is usually 3000K throughout the day.
Putting humans at the centre
By attempting to have smart lighting that more closely mimics the outdoors in terms of increased brightness and colour at different parts of the day, firms are allowing customers in various industries to improve their KPIs. Of note is the healthcare vertical, where patient stays were shortened through improved lighting—especially sunny rooms. This sort of KPI is of interest to hospital insurers in the U.S. where they want to decrease costly stays, and to hospitals in Canada that want to make beds available for more surgeries.
Another vertical that benefits tangibly is the education sector, where students have shown improvements in test-taking and focus with brighter (blue-toned) light, and greater calm with redder light. MondeVerde has installed its smart lighting in 15 schools in Sweden and they have seen both cost efficiencies as well as improved student learning environments. The improvements in productivity and health can be extrapolated to other commercial verticals.
Smart lighting solutions often have sensors for regulating brightness and colour throughout the day, thereby minimizing user contact. They can be customized for specific users as well—teachers, for example, can have a rotary dimmer on their boards where they teach, instead of near the door. There are also panels that provide the illusion of a skylight, featuring a blue sky with clouds.
As we slowly reintegrate into our commercial environments in the coming months, there will likely be a push to adopt improvements from home offices to other spaces, as well as to focus on opportunities to create new business. Biophilic (human-centric) smart lighting is an idea whose future is bright.
Isabel Freire is the strategic partnership lead for Tech Nordic Advocates, helping Nordic and Baltic companies partner with Canadian organizations, as well as advising high-growth start-ups and scale-ups through the intersection of technology, capital and strategy.
This article—along with other great content—appears in the June 2020 edition of Electrical Business Magazine.