GE, Cisco bank on smart lighting going mainstream

LED lightbulb smart lighting for business
Flickr Jonathan Cohen
Commercial deployments of LED lighting are on the rise.

In mid-February, General Electric’s newly minted Current division scored a massive contract to install smart LED lighting across every single one of banking giant JPMorgan Chase’s 5,000 U.S. branch offices.

After it is completed, the project could cut energy consumption across the bank’s facilities in half.

This isn’t just a pilot: The technology will cover more than 25 million square feet of commercial building space, according to Current. Equally as important, the installation will blanket the buildings with a sensor network capable of controlling myriad other smart building applications, such as occupancy-inspired climate control management and smart commuting services.

The Chase deal is the most vivid example yet of why smart lighting shines as one of the most effective technology investments that sustainability-minded businesses can make — and why big companies such as Chase, mail operator Simon Properties, hospitality firm Hilton Worldwide and healthcare provider Hospital Corp. of America have embraced the GE Current platform.

In October, GE Vice Chair of Business Innovation Beth Comstock told Fortune that Current's customers save an average of 10 percent to 20 percent on their electricity bills. The group has set aside $500 million to help businesses finance their projects over time. 

"The falling costs of including controls in lighting projects has made the decision to implement these systems much easier," said Navigant Research analyst Jesse Foote in a statement. "From dimming ballasts to controls software, as well as the prices of LEDs themselves, all of the key components in networked lightings controls systems are becoming less expensive."

That makes for a pretty massive market opportunity. Navigant expects commercial spending for networked lighting controls to total $38.2 billion for the nine-year period from 2015 to 2024.

Naturally, that revenue upside has inspired plenty of competition ranging from startups such as Enlighted, which has sold its smart lighting service to the likes of Starbucks, to familiar C-suite technology suppliers such as GE and networking giant Cisco.

The latter has dabbled with lighting networks for some time, but recently doubled down on its "Digital Ceiling" initiative.

Through the program, Cisco is teaming up with more than a dozen other companies (and counting) that sell technologies related to smart lighting solutions, such as LED lighting powerhouse Cree, electrical components and cabling company Molex and building automation giant Johnson Controls.

The idea is to specify technologies that work together, which should speed up the time it takes for companies to retrofit existing buildings. 

"People are moving to LED anyway. Why not move them to [Internet Protocol] networks?" said Tony Shakib, vice president of the Cisco Internet of Things division, during a briefing about the strategy. "This starts with use creating a secure, distributed, standards-based architecture to deliver building intelligence."

The public school district in Mobile, Alabama, which represents more than 57,000 students across 89 facilities, plans to phase in smart lighting as existing fluorescent technology ages out.

The ultimate goal is to save "tens of millions of dollars" on the district’s power fill while creating an environment that is more conducive to learning, said David Akridge, executive manager of information technology for the school district. The network underlying the lights also can be used to update security applications.

"A percentage of the money saved can go back into the classroom and student achievement," Akridge said.

Tags: