Are you hoping to graduate from incandescent lights, but find those LEDs are just so expensive—even if they’re going to last for years? That’s fine. Now you don’t have to buy the light: You can buy the lighting service, and leave the cost of purchasing the hardware to someone else.
Companies whose business model is to sell only high-efficiency light—rather than the hardware itself—are merging the new long-lasting, high-efficiency LED bulbs with smart-grid technology. Leasing programs for fluorescent bulbs have been around for years (not to mention programs that lease the solar panels that power them), but smart lighting systems are relatively new. For large companies with thousands of bulbs that burn millions of dollars in energy, those are real savings.
Digital Lumens is one company whose prospective service model will be to sell the lighting from LED bulbs (but not the bulbs themselves, as stated in an earlier version of this article), by offering wirelessly networked fixtures and management software. The system automatically adjusts lighting within a building, dimming or brightening bulbs based on the ambient conditions, optimizing energy use across an entire facility, typically industrial warehouses and factories. Building owners buy the light itself. Digital Lumens, which plans to sell its "lighting as a service" as early as next year, figures the payback period for its LED lighting system could be less than two years with as many as two decades of major energy savings over conventional systems, Digital Lumens CEO Tom Pincince told Gigaom.
"For the most part, customers today buy lighting as a capital purchase," says Pincince. "In the future, we will get to a point where we will manage an intelligent system remotely. You will buy a service around lighting."
The fortunes of large companies can rise and fall with the price of energy—any way to save makes sense. But while that cost has been rising consistently in recent years, the costs of LEDs and other solid-state technologies are plunging, to the point that they may approach the cost of conventional bulbs. If that happens, it will be up to the energy efficiency and management benefits from integrated systems —not just avoiding the up-front costs of throwing down for a lot of LEDs—that could make these attractive industry-wide.