Outdoor lighting is an exciting field these days. New technologies are expanding possibilities. Design and technology improvements are making lights more efficient and more adaptable. As wireless technology and the internet of things picks up speed, interest is growing in smart lighting systems. All of this is to say that tech trends in outdoor and landscape lighting are moving quickly. With new technologies, a sort of Wild West atmosphere has opened up, with competing standards and technologies vying for control. Where the chips will land is anyone’s guess, but it is undoubtedly an exciting time to be an outdoor and landscape lighting technician.
The Shift to Solid-State
Perhaps the biggest and most significant trend in outdoor lighting has been the shift to solid state. Solid-state technologies include cutting-edge technologies such as light-emitting polymers and organic light-emitting diodes (OLED). While these technologies are being adopted for use in the most current televisions and electronic devices, they haven’t really crossed over to outdoor lighting. However, another solid-state technology, light-emitting diodes (LED) has been taking the outdoor lighting market by storm.
Until recently, the most common commercial and municipal outdoor lighting utilized high (or low) pressure sodium lamps. These lamps produced the familiar orange light typical of street lights. For landscape lighting, many designers preferred halogen lamps. They provided a good balance of high luminosity and energy efficiency and produced better color rendering than high-pressure sodium lamps.
As solid-state LED technology has advanced, LED lamps have swept the outdoor and landscape lighting sector. LEDs continue to gain efficiency and better color rendering, all while becoming more compact and cheaper. In commercial and municipal lighting, the shift to solid-state has been slowly gaining steam. However, for landscape lighting, LEDs have almost entirely replaced the older halogen technology. LEDs allow for more compact luminaires, much more extended periods between burned out bulbs, and efficiency ideally suited to low-voltage systems.
Today, Night Vision Outdoor Lighting uses LED lamps exclusively. We no longer install any halogen lamps and have actually been hired on some occasions to replace halogen systems with superior LED technology.
Lighting in RGB and Beyond
A more recent trend that has appeared almost exclusively in landscape and residential lighting is RGB lighting. RGB (red, green, blue) lighting is sometimes referred to as color changing lighting. As LED technology has advanced, the technology necessary to produce different colors has become commercially viable. Combined with the benefits of standard LEDs, RGB LEDs offer a whole new level of customization.
In most cases, the use of colored lights is meant to be subtle. A small area may be lit with red, green, or blue lighting as a highlight. The rest of the system continues to use white or non-colored light. (Depending on the color temperature, non-colored light can appear more yellow or more blue.) However, for some applications, brightly colored lights can create new designs. Celebratory lights might shine in the colors of a favorite sports team or red, white, and blue for patriotic holidays. Winter holidays can also be marked by striking displays intense colored light.
As outdoor and landscape lighting technology advances, the ability to shift the color of LED lights has become more precise. For instance, the recently released Hue system from Phillips Lighting can produce almost any shade of any color. In addition to the ability to produce precision colors, the Hue system includes a central control hub for easy control of the entire system.
Even without adding colors, precision control over individual LED luminaires has made the job of the lighting designer both easier and more complex. Once installed, LED lamps can be fine-tuned in brightness and color temperature. This allows designers to place lights first and determine the ideal luminosity and temperature in real time.
As wireless technology explodes, smart lighting is the wave of the future. Eventually, outdoor and landscape lighting will be tied into a vast internet of things. The internet of things provides a network to connect a wide variety of devices, not just computers or smartphones. The internet of things is still in its infancy, but it carries great promise. When diverse systems can communicate, each system can function in tandem and in response to other systems.
In the near-term, smart lighting allows for precise control of a lighting system from a central hub or even a smartphone app. To be fair, some level of control has been available since the mid-twentieth century. Simple timers were an early precursor to modern controls. Advances in timer technology have given rise to highly programmable astronomical timers that take into account sunrise and sunset times.
In addition to accounting for sunrise and sunset, modern programmable timers can be combined with photocells to avoid using light when it is not needed. It is also possible to turn off much of the ornamental lighting while maintaining adequate security lighting. For example, it may be unnecessary to light up every garden feature at 4:00 a.m. Programmable timers can shut off some garden lights in the dead of night while keeping important security lighting around the house on all night.
The growth in smart lighting has led to something of a Wild West of competing standards. Cell phones today utilize common standards, such as 3G and 4G, to communicate across brands and carriers. In a similar way, the race is on to coin a standard for smart lighting. So far, the technology is in its infancy, and no single standard has risen to the top. Different manufacturers are vying for control.
Some manufacturers and technology companies have enrolled heavy hitters like Philips Lighting in their standards. Still, there is no single standard that is accepted across all smart lighting systems. Instead, there is a broad variety of communication standards. Some are proprietary while others are open source, allowing anyone to change and contribute to their technologies. Which standard will rise to the top is anyone’s guess.
One thing we do know is that even the competing tech and lighting companies look forward to a single, cross-platform standard. Each one just wants their system to become the only system. Looking toward the future, expect an integrated smart lighting system that works with other systems in your home. A smart lighting system can adjust to changes in seasons, weather, and human activity to provide the best possible light at the highest efficiency.
Designing Around Tech Trends in Outdoor and Landscape Lighting
Night Vision Outdoor lighting is a leader in high-quality, reliable, efficient outdoor and landscape lighting. While we embrace the rise of technology, we also like to err on the side of caution. While new technologies may offer great promise, we value reliability as a critical factor in our landscape lighting designs. That means that we use time-tested LED lamps in all of our installations. However, we tend not to install technologies that are still poorly tested in the field. Of course, the client is always our top priority. So at a client’s request, we are happy to discuss options for more cutting-edge lighting technology.
Night Vision Outdoor lighting has installed over 5,000 systems. We have a pretty good idea of what works and what looks appealing. When you choose to work with us, you can feel secure in your choice. We start every job with an in-depth analysis of customer goals, dreams, and budget to find the perfect outdoor lighting solution. Contact us today to schedule your free, no-obligation consultation.