Konkana Khaund's Blog

Lightfair 2016 Update: Connected lighting and lighting beyond illumination takes center stage

29 Apr 2016

Technology innovation, design, education and interactivity-Lightifair 2016 combined all of this intensively with some 500+ exhibitors and a swarm of visitors throughout the last three days in San Diego, California. As I scouted through the many booths spread across six pavilions, including one that was wholly dedicated to building integration, the message was amply clear: lighting has moved well beyond its traditional realm of just illuminating a space. As presented in its new avatar by numerous small and big companies at this year’s show, the world of possibilities that lighting can enable with connectivity and design innovation plugged into it is immense and growing.

Connected lighting and IoT, encompassing internet-connected fixtures, linking smart devices to networks and managed via could based platforms, was a common theme for a number of major suppliers including Philips, Current (GE), Eaton, Acuity, Cree, Osram Sylvania and more. In addition, location based services that connected people to their environments via lighting was also a point of demonstration. End-to-end connected lighting strategies may not be the focus for all players, though partnerships to enable that capability was predominant amongst all exhibitors showcasing connected lighting, with Cisco appearing as common link across many of these suppliers in terms of strategic partnership. Connected Power over Ethernet (PoE) lighting systems were the other rage this year, with several LED and lighting control companies showcasing their luminaires with embedded sensors, cable, and gateways that tie into Ethernet switches. The messages around huge cost reductions with PoE in new lighting installations and significantly greater energy savings were communicated aggressively by these players.

Smart lighting enabling smart cities: Besides Current (GE) and Philips (CityTouch Connector node LED) that heavily focused on demos of smart city lighting and how lighting can enhance security, public safety and enable a host of city function, there were others such as Sensity and Minebea that showcased smart city options with lighting. Partnerships with security solutions providers, IoT companies and other component and hub providers were key characteristics of these value propositions.

Health and Wellness: Elevating experiences with lighting, in particular how lighting influences circadian rhythm was another area that received specific focus from technology providers that demonstrated the use of lighting to improve wellbeing, productivity and other intangible subjective benefits that further established the extended role of lighting. Acuity Brands, Lighting Science Inc., Philips and WattStopper Legrand were prominent among those that unveiled products built on circadian rhythm regulating platform and principles. For instance, Wattstopper Legrand introduced a multitude of new Wattstopper DLM capabilities and tools including code-compliant circadian rhythm lighting system. As part of the company's partnership with Lumenetix, this system will be interoperable with Lumenetix's araya5 platform.

Continued advancements in Controls and LED, encompassing more efficient indoor and outdoor luminaires, lamps, light engines and drivers were prominent from large and small players, including those from manufacturers in Asia. New innovations in industrial LEDs from suppliers like Thomas & Betts, Digital Lumens, LumenPulse and daylight integration products from Lutron, Xeleum, C3, Digital Lumens, Audacy and others showcased the advancements in light modulation, sustainability, light quality and smart controls. Lutron, unlike its other lighting counterparts, also showcased its line of home control platforms – the Caseta Wireless smart home systems, compatible with third-party devices that can be connected to the Lutron App via the Lutron Smart Bridge, which made for a nice showcase of product lines, beyond just lighting.

As expected, the number of options towards LED retrofits is growing, with solutions in various configurations and price points from Forest Lighting, Cree, ABB, Digital Lumens, Soraa and a host of other manufacturers. In the area of chips and wafers, there was a distinct segregation of players, with companies such Samsung choosing to provide premium solutions with the latest chip technology as a point of key differentiation from their low cost Asian counterparts. Samsung’s chip-on-board LED, with a small light-emitting surface and vivid colors that follows the Zhaga standard was a key highlight in their demo booth. Though it is early to predict if the premium positioning will help the company gain better traction, it was clear that their corporate vision strongly gravitated towards promoting quality over price.

Building integration: Integration of lighting with the overall building systems, centralized management and supervision, as well as interoperability with other devices and systems within the buildings was a key point of emphasis in LFI 2016, with a full pavilion dedicated to technology integrators and vendors that are advancing this proposition. Connected lighting and integration of lighting with building systems, smart building control, sensing, and Enterprise IoT applications, allowing efficiencies to be achieved from collective intelligence, was propagated through the presence of players such as Daintree Networks (acquired by GE Current), Autec, Nanoleaf and several others that showcased the extended advantages of integrating lighting with building controls.

Overall, LFI 2016 brought together established and emerging participants of an ever growing and complex industry that is in the cusp of significant transformational changes triggered by connectivity, IoT and smart innovations in design and technology. As the trend in innovation continues further, it is safe to presume that the industry will undoubtedly prepare to witness yet more evolutionary concepts and solutions within this course of a year, all waiting to converge at LFI 2017 in Philadelphia.

Finally an LED light bulb for under $3..

25 Feb 2016

Finally an LED light bulb for under $3…thanks to Osram Sylvannia as per their latest announcement this morning.

When I wrote this blog back in Oct, 2013 about "Making LEDs affordable to the consumer,” a $3 LED lighting bulb from my local retailer seemed a very distant possibility:


Back then Cree breaking the $10 price barrier and launching their affordable 40-watt equivalent was making news. Or the Walmart GE partnerships for LEDs at $8. 88 caught our attention. Because most of us were already settling for IKEA’s DIY LED products at $10 as attractive options price-wise.

However, during the same time consumers half way around the world were able to buy the same products for $3 or less as I acknowledged in that blog from my own personal experience of buying a LED replacement bulb for that value in India.

But Osram Sylvannia’s latest lineup of 10-year LED lighting options “at cost-effective price points like under $3 for a 60W replacement A19 LED light bulb and under $7.99 MSRP for a BR30 LED light bulb” has got us there in just over two years. And no, this is not some limited time promo, but the regular retail price for consumers as the company readies to make the products available at retailers soon. As stated in their media release “Available now, SYLVANIA A19 LEDs replace 40 and 60 watt (W) traditional bulbs but use only 6W and 8.5W respectively.  They provide instant on lighting, last up to 10 years with a rated life of up to 11,000 hours (L70), and are available in both 2700K (soft white) and 5000K (daylight) color temperatures and singular and in multi-packs.  In addition, the SYLVANIA 10-Year LED Portfolio includes 75W and 100W replacement A19-size LED bulbs….”Full details can be found here:


In my 2013 blog I wrote that I was convinced beyond doubt that no matter how affordable we think we were getting to LED price points, there is still room for more. And that manufacturers need to look at best ways of marrying the technology innovation aspect of LED with smarter manufacturing and channel management to allow consumers to reap the lasting benefit of switching over to LED. That is precisely what led to today’s announcement from Osram Sylvannia. Now let us hope that others like GE, Philips, Cree and their counterparts follow suit so consumers do not have to choose price over quality and energy savings the next time they shop for light bulbs.

Underwater data centers...Microsoft's experimentation offers a new alternative

02 Feb 2016

Experimentation with Heat Transfer Fluids and liquid immersion cooling has already come to mark the next big wave of technology innovation in data center cooling. Efficiencies gained in using liquid cooling, particularly water, is helping prove the business case for sustainable cooling strategies for data centers that are constantly embroiled in high heat and power intensity challenges. Companies like 3M, Bitfury/Allied Control have already showcased their options in this area.

But, why just immerse servers and chips, when you can immerse a whole data center in fluid or water- Microsoft's recently completed three-month long experimentation operating an underwater data center proves that it is not only possible, but potentially offer a viable and highly efficient alternative to their land-based counterparts. The modular approach, zero net heat profile, and dramatically faster pace of deployment are just a few of the many advantages that these underwater pods could offer. While the threat of data centers overcrowding the ocean may not be a real concern any time soon, environmental impacts are yet to be determined. As well this may lead to more novel security and cybersecurity challenges that we haven't yet considered.


JCI announces acquisition of Tyco International - Building controls, energy management and IoT solutions from a one-stop shop is finally here

26 Jan 2016

Johnson Controls Inc.’s (JCI) recently announced acquisition of Tyco International is the latest in strategic competitive moves that underpins a key mega trend defining several industry sectors at present: “Convergence of technology leads to convergence of competition.“ Technology convergence has been the cornerstone of the smart building technology industry for a considerable time now. JCI’s leading position in several major segments of this industry including automation and controls, HVACR and energy management has been established with its capitalization on technology convergence through strategic acquisitions, smart technology investments, in a well charted manner. The acquisition of Tyco will help JCI explore further opportunities together as a consolidated conglomerate-Johnson Controls Plc, with a combined revenue size of $32 Billion annually.

This consolidation, beyond offering advantages of tax inversion to JCI (for shifting its corporate headquarters to Tyco’s Ireland base), will create several competitive disruptions in markets such as HVACR, fire and life safety, security, automation as well as lead to more defined competitive organization within the connectivity driven and Internet-of-things (IoT) enabled smart building market. While markets such as fire and life safety, security, controls and HVACR could expect to see a formidable competitive leader emerge at the top end, it will be interesting to see how this impacts the connected and IoT segments of the smart buildings market. This will potentially offer a more defined scope and solution positioning in a nascent market struggling with myriad of offerings and competitive jostling for positions. The combined positioning and solutions portfolio of JCI and Tyco in the connectivity and IoT segments will generate some alignment of solutions and structured competitive tiers. IoT devices are predicted to reach 23 billion by 2020 as per Frost & Sullivan’s research, and IoT enabled smart buildings will include a significant share in it. It will be particularly interesting to watch what innovative business model for delivering IoT and smart buildings solutions emerge from this acquisition.

Services will be a key area to watch out for as direct beneficiary of the acquisition. Tyco’s established installation and services business will bring in distinct value to the combined entity. JCI’s CEO Alex Molinaroli emphasized the ability to “service customers more comprehensively and innovatively" during a press conference organized for this acquisition announcement. Services are expected to contribute 30 percent to global revenues for the new company. System integration, installation and services are an integral part of the building automation and energy management industry that players like JCI, Tyco and a host of their major competitors have already incorporated into their business portfolio for competitive advantages and ownership of customer relationships. This acquisition further strengthens the positions of the two companies in installation and services by exposing them to a much wider scope of opportunities that goes beyond energy, automation and controls to include security, access controls, elevators, visualization, and more.

With a strong portfolio combining building solutions, energy and connected solutions including IoT, this could also help JCI foray more aggressively into the area of smart cities, thus lining up with its current building technology competitors such as Siemens and Schneider Electric, in addition to others such as Cisco, IBM, to name a few.

More immediately, combining business synergies and creating operational efficiencies will offer unique competitive advantages to JCI and Tyco vis-à-vis competitors in these markets, not to forget geographic revenue potential for JCI and Tyco, particularly within markets in Europe and China, and access to a combined pool of channel partners in all regions. Cross selling to each others’ customer base is another advantage that accrues from this relationship. How rival competitive alliances and partnerships of the two companies will be figured out is not clear at the moment, however, establishment of a clear one-stop shop for building and energy solutions with a strong capability in connected solutions and IoT is highly apparent right away.

Bringing Focus to the Consumer –Need for connected home solutions to incorporate human behavior analysis

22 Jul 2015

The connected home brings up the image of a myriad of smart devices, applications and platforms addressing various lifestyle functions of the consumer. The quick proliferation of IoT has made this area notoriously synonymous with vast data streams and compiled intelligence in need of processing and analytics. While that conundrum in M2M communication reaches its inflection point, a huge gaping hole still remain unattended– the focus on the consumer. Incorporation of human behavior analysis into the innovation process for smart devices can offer significant inputs towards making them function more accurately and predictability.

Motion sensors, cloud cameras and voice recognition systems have attempted to offer a level of behavioral sensing capability in smart home products, but false diagnosis and unpredictable results constitute but a small part of their list of cons. The issue can, however, be addressed by low-cost image sensors working with advanced embedded imaging and computer vision technology. This is an area of innovation that is just beginning to unfold with a growing breed of connected home solution suppliers recognizing the value that can be integrated to their offerings. United Kingdom based Apical Ltd. currently offers this technology through their ART system, which is already complementing smart phones and voice recognition systems within the connected home. The company’s partnership announced this morning with Tend, based out of Fremont, California, is expected to bring people detection capabilities into home security solution that will reduce false alarms. Tend’s latest offerings within its Vision-as-a-Service (VaaS) platform for the connected home will incorporate the concept of Smart Detection powered by Apical’s ART system. See Press release here: http://tinyurl.com/obofjbp

This could offer a credible enhancement to various connected systems and devices by enriching their performance through a correct distinction between human and non-human based events to make real time decisions. Besides security, energy management is a strong adjacent area where this technology could offer some good value enhancements as more vendors consider integrating solutions based on human behavior pattern detection, aided by advanced embedded imaging and computer vision technology.

While it is still early play, a critical consideration is the affordability of solutions. A service based model, as opposed to a product driven push could be well justified, given the low up-front cost to the consumer, and the continued benefit from added-on features and services. However, from a market development standpoint this could potentially propel technology and service providers with innovative offerings into the market, without them having to work ground-up.

With Apple’s HomeKit Achieving a Smart Home is Just an App Away

04 Jun 2015

On Monday June 8, 2015, at the company’s Worldwide Developers' Conference (WWDC) in San Francisco Apple is expected to announce further details of its plans to make the iPhone the remote operating system for smart homes.

Apple's smart home platform - HomeKit can now be controlled by an iOS device. With this announcement we can now look forward to a fully orchestrated smart home becoming an early possibility. A smart home ideally should represent the ultimate in connected living. However, overwhelming reference to “connectedness” powered by Internet-of-Things has underplayed the real degree of connectedness that characterizes a smart home today.

Despite the slew of products released into this market, the fundamental issue still remains – who is orchestrating the smart home? While early tech savvy adopters have to a fair extent managed to get their devices, appliances, security, entertainment, telemetry and all other potentially lifestyle supporting functions integrate and intercommunicate, the truth is that the smart home is still largely a patchwork of systems, devices, application and services. Most smart home products are anything but what consumers want them to be – easy to configure and control.

HomeKit could significantly change these perceptions as now a home owner would have a single platform that enables smart devices to communicate with, and be controlled by an iOS device, as well as connect other HomeKit-compatible devices with an iOS device by simply downloading the accompanying app. With numerous activities of our daily lives virtually being dependent on one app or another, this could mean the ultimate simplification in creating and controlling a smart home. And with HomeKit compatible devices such as the iHome smartplug, ecobee wireless thermostat and other devices from manufacturers like Insteon already gaining market attention, now home owners upgrading to smart home technologies can do so with ease and without having to consider costly upgrades of gadgetry just to get smart devices from various manufacturers to connect and intercommunicate.

However, this may not propel consumers to overnight become smart home enthusiasts. By all measures this market is poised for gradual and long-term growth, as opposed to immediate peaks. Apple's smart phones' success may far from repeat itself with their smart home strategy. However, the early signs of market development are highly encouraging, given the interests from other software and Internet technology giants like Google, Intel, Samsung and Microsoft.

Samsung’s smart appliances are already gaining market presence. And their complete range of smart appliances that will connect to the Internet is expected to be market-ready in less than five years. With Apple making concerted moves into the smart homes market, Google is not far behind either. Google’s Brillo home operating platform and Weave-compatible third party home devices that Google will certify is expected to make Google a strong contender in the growing ecosystem of smart home solution providers.

While this is still early play, one cannot ignore the brand equity that Apple enjoys over any of its tech counterparts that could create a bias for Apple over the others in this emerging market. The iPhone’s popularity will play a key role in helping Apple capitalize on this hot market opportunity. Consumers’ proven adaptability to everything Apple could go a long way in ensuring early success. The ability to orchestrate the smart home seamlessly is one key niche that Apple is trying to fulfill here. But enabling it with an in-home central hub with another Apple product – Apple TV is a clever way of trying to achieve that. Third generation or later Apple TV will act as the central control point for all HomeKit compatible connected items within the home that consumers can control with their iOS device remotely.

This could indeed dismantle the artificial strongholds that were being created so far within the smart home ecosystem by telecom/entertainment and security solution providers by virtue of their offerings being ‘sticky.’ Though it is premature to predict if their stronghold would be fully replaced by the domination of Apple, Google and others, it would not be wholly unlikely to witness this new wave of players becoming extremely important in delivering to a smart home.

As for the consumer, this would mean bridging an important gap in their experience of a smart home. However, it would still be a gradual transition in demand only, unlike what could be expected in case of smart phones or tablets.

What do we expect to see in the Intelligent Buildings Industry in 2014?

19 Dec 2013

As 2013 comes to a close and we all eagerly await the new year to unfold, I am sure each of us are going through a time of reflection on things gone by, and an anticipation of what the new year holds for us. No matter how much of a surprise we expect, it is almost uncanny that things to come are often predictable to a certain degree, and largely depends on how we shape them to impact our lives and businesses. The intelligent buildings industry is no exception to that rule. I am sure all of us involved in this space are already forming our opinions and mental picture of what we may see unfold in 2014. Weighting the good and bad in our industry over the last few years, I strongly feel that some of the following trends will mark the 2014 industry trajectory:

Leading with financials: Move over energy savings, incentives, rebates, low hanging fruits. 2013 already ushered in a period where increasingly building owners are looking at those buildings as financially lucrative assets that will appreciate in value multi-fold if the right investment decision is made. As this resonates with more and more asset managers and owners, we will see a strong shift towards the need for financial optimization on a long-term basis, including operational maximization from their assets, whether or not energy provides that initial boost to consider investments. Of course, needless to say energy would still be the winner in the long term as the right technology and investment choices get made.

From technology to apps: Not just technology sophistication, but what technology can achieve for the building owner and operator will drive the show in 2014. The robustness in hardware and software may well be in demand. But ultimately it is the user experiences, interfaces, mobility-on-demand, and scalability that will determine how adoptable technology will get. With smart devices ruling our existence today, the building operations world is no longer being controlled from the plant room. There will be an app for every function to control, monitor and predicatively optimize our bindings.

Acknowledging the Cloud as the best fit: For all things that will rely on a control point, the cloud will unanimously be acknowledged as the best answer. The need to manage huge volumes of data and making sense of it all has already brought the importance of the cloud to the forefront of building management. Reducing the burden on local storage, growing complexity of demand from tech-savvy FMs, increased demand on networks and bandwidth are all inevitable reasons why migrating to run applications from the cloud will be the natural progression. 2014 will likely do way with some of the reservations that kept this migration at check so far. Besides the fact that intelligence in building systems and devices no longer need to rely on middle-ware integration, with smartness being deployed directly into devices that interact from cloud-based platforms will make the cloud a distinct reality for intelligent buildings in 2014.

Continued innovation and entry of disruptive technologies: The entrepreneurial spirit will continue to help offload nascent and promising smart technologies, devices and apps into the intelligent buildings solution portfolio. And it is the small and medium sized entrepreneur, not the established OEMs of the industry that will be the active contributors. Be it energy management, analytics, third party services, smart device integration, value-added apps, they will continue to come out of nascent suppliers who do not need to rely on huge operational expenses, hardware sales, manufacturing capabilities, or brand presence to be part of the game. That doesn’t mean the established large OEMs will step aside. For them, leaving any part of the business on the table is not an option. However, true innovation with absolute technological differentiation from what they already offer has not been forthcoming as a prominent part of their business proposition in the last few years. It is the SME that has stolen the show. And tying up for an alliance with these promising newbies makes far better business sense for the large OEMs, and also helps these nascent providers to ignore their lack of brand presence in capturing market attention. This trend will continue through in a big way in 2014.

Adopting the intelligent building operating system (OS): The OS is no longer just limited to running our PCs and other IT-aided devices. To truly move over to the next generation of intelligent buildings it is imperative that buildings should get their own intrinsic OS to build its intelligent architecture of automation, connectivity and interoperability, supervisory control, energy management and analytics, diagnostics, and adopting a fully converged IT-aided infrastructure platform. While this should have been a precursor to several intelligent building-related developments, it is still not too late for an industry wide open effort in 2014. Not to ignore the various options of OS that presently exits in the intelligent buildings industry, from digital building OS, to IT-centric, controls-centric OS that are already being used as the basis of an intelligent building framework. However, some consolidation efforts are needed in that direction to come up with a robust and truly scalable OS that an intelligent building could benefit from. Standardization of data modeling is a key issue here. Open collaboration is important, and the good news is that the collaborative community in the intelligent buildings industry has been fairly active on a number of initiatives already. Let us hope that the intelligent buildings OS initiative from all such efforts gains good momentum and leads to some fruitful results in 2014.

Due attention to cyber security: Cyber security vulnerabilities are a valid concern for all involved in this industry, particularly the c-suite of decision makers and their executive management who cannot afford to expose themselves even to the slightest bit of risk in running their intelligent buildings business portfolio. With increased remote controllability and data flow, buildings are overtly being driven to security risks than before. While this topic has seen adequate attention in the last few years, it is clearly gaining more traction now than ever. As security risks invade the BAS, the need to secure remote connections, data storage, managing access rights and privileges to devices, audits and activity sessions of operators are all gaining reasonable importance. Reducing vulnerable points, increasing oversight, and protecting sensitive organizational inputs and outputs are absolutely necessary. While some of this is technology and software driven, there is a significant part of this that will need to be driven by compliance attributes, and even regulations and privacy issues. This is yet another area to witness collaborative initiatives from vendors, users and regulators in 2014.

The exit trend: Just as realization of the green washing concept led to the subsequent exit, or weeding out of a spade of companies in the mid 2000, it will not be surprising to witness some similar exits and weeding out of those numerous solution providers, particularly within the ‘value-added’ technology segment, the energy management segment and online operations/management services that have only added confusion, rather than real value to the end-user in the last few years. Clearly there is no comprehension of what these operators have to offer, or has there been any distinct value derived from using their tools and services for any building owner. Operating mostly as point-solution providers, this category of market participants have struggled to carve a niche for themselves within the intelligent buildings and energy management industry. 2014 will witness some of them make their inevitable exit, or else get weeded out with end users unceremoniously side-stepping these for more comprehensive and value-driven robust solutions available from true innovators.

And finally on the wish list: It is great to see large campuses and portfolio of buildings leading the way when it comes to marked changes in building intelligence. However, the industry has waited apprehensively for the mid-to-large sized single buildings to make it to that list. Some of these buildings are already strong adopters of intelligent building solutions and are operating as fully simulated entities, equally capable of proving best practices and business cases just as their large C&I counterparts. However, they have either not been very demonstrative of their initiatives, or OEMs and services providers have not spent much time investigating this opportunity. Let’s hope 2014 marks the beginning of a period where this untapped market opportunity unfolds as a strong business contender for all parties involved. Towards this end, let us also hope that energy service providers, utilities and their regulators take them as serious demand response candidates, formulates the appropriate demand response programs, utility driven energy management programs, and most importantly OEMs and vendors work closely with the decision makers in this category to bring out good demonstration cases that will help prove the value currently latent in this segment.

Energy Performance Contracting and the Residential Sector

19 Dec 2013

Energy Service Companies (ESCOs) provide a range of services including audits, financing, installation and maintenance and are repaid based on the client’s energy savings. Energy Performance Contracting (EPC) allows private firms to enter into arrangements with building owners to reduce the energy consumption of their buildings through customized energy efficiency upgrades. Operating costs can be reduced and energy efficiency improved with no up-front costs and limited risks to the facility owner. Despite the success of EPC in non-residential markets, virtually little or no applications in the housing sector have been achieved in United States and Canada. To date ESCOs have focused almost exclusively on commercial and institutional buildings such as public facilities, hospitals and schools as they are sufficiently large scale, have simplified approval processes, and are easy to replicate. The residential market has been viewed as high risk and difficult to manage.

A relatively better success for EPCs in the United States residential sector however, points to the fact that with the right initiative this could be replicated as a good model for retrofitting residential developments in a much larger scale, just as their commercial and institutional counterparts. To date there is approximately over half a billion units that has been retrofitted by EPC contracts in the United States. Utility sponsored programs initially attracted ESCOs to the residential market where most retrofits were being done in single detached homes. With some waning of utility incentives, the focus has shifted over to social housing as an attractive submarket, given the fact that the scale of the projects is large, the housing is in poor condition and there is a need to cut operating costs.

In Canada, the high-rise apartment market and the medium-rise social housing market has been viewed as attractive EPC targets for some considerable time by ESCOs. These segments offer larger investment returns and greater control of day-to-day energy use in the buildings. Overall, there is a substantial energy saving potential in the residential market, particularly in light of the aging condition of the housing stock. For the high-rise market alone, the total investment potential is estimated to be within a few billion dollars by various housing and financial sources in Canada. And of the target market, nearly 25-30% is expected to be in need of major repairs, and therefore energy management can be effectively combined with significantly cost-effective renovation projects.

Of course there are critical barriers that have led to a slow interest in this market opportunity. Among the prominent ones, the inability to control occupant behavior to achieve effective energy reductions when compared to baseline consumption is perhaps the most significant one. Occupant education would have to be a key part of the initiative to overcome this barrier. Additionally, complexity of decision making, multi-layered contract structure, rent control restrictions, etc. will require legislative intervention.

No matter how effective the degree of changes are, it is predictable that ESCOs would only prefer to accept the high-value projects where margins can be maximized, and therefore majority of projects that could actually benefit from an EPC contract may tend to be grossly overlooked. Institutional intervention, particularly government-utility partnerships, is an important prerequisite for EPC contracts to enter the residential market. Most importantly the respective state/provincial governments, utilities, ESCOs and the financial and insurance sectors have to develop more concrete strategies to facilitate EPC entry into the residential sector. At present the framework of such strategic initiative leaves a lot to be desired. Greater focus on increasing market access and reducing the risk to a level comparable to other EPC market sectors need attention. Finally the power of demonstration projects cannot be ignored. Showcasing pilot projects, highlighting the operational dynamics, being upfront with initial mistakes made, and offering guidance to the industry on how to pursue similar project successfully could help propel interest and investment into this slow but promising segment of the EPC business.

Integrating Information Technology into the Built Environment - Bridging the Classic Facility and IT Divide

29 Nov 2013

The degree to which Information Technology (IT) influences the built environment is large and increasing. There are challenges in bringing facility managers up to speed on this impact that can have huge benefits. But what steps need to be taken by technology vendors and facility managers (FM) to reap the full advantage these technologies? The integration of IT is an inevitable trend in the built environment through building automation, security solutions, energy management, and occupant comfort enhancement options. Frost & Sullivan’s extensive research among building technology industry participants over the last decade confirms this aspect objectively. However, this body of research also indicates that making this transition requires concentrated initiatives that go beyond expecting a traditional facility manager to get up-to-speed with technology.

In this article, originally published in fmlink.com on Nov 18, 2013, under the FMLink Analyst Insights Feature Series, I have delved deeper into this issue of how to balance the inherent challenges and benefits of facility optimization faced by the industry’s asset management staff on a daily basis.


For operational staff, understanding and using technology poses a critical challenge. With such technology comes the added dilemma of managing and making sense of vast amounts of data. However, the importance of utilizing such information cannot be overlooked. And as FMs realize this and act upon it, the traditional divide between IT and FM seem far more notional than actual. Tasked with reducing total cost of ownership, today’s FMs are keen on understanding how to better optimize their properties for predictive maintenance. Helping them achieve that is a growing breed of technology vendors who take an integrated approach to make the technology experience seamless and supportive to FMs.

Industry leaders such as Johnson Controls, Inc., Siemens Industry, Inc., Honeywell International, Inc. and Schneider Electric, are taking proactive steps towards this direction, as discussed in this article. Not only are they actively participating in such technology orientation processes with FMs, but to a large extent are helping demonstrate best practices for the entire industry to effectively meet the fundamental challenges.

Without doubt, technology integration is making facilities smarter and more dynamic, and quantifiable benefits are already proven. The role of technology as a key enabler in enhancing a building’s performance and asset life is well established already. It is only a question of changing perceptions, and the fundamentals of conducting the FM business, to bring about such changes in the industry that can help bridge the gap between operations and IT in managing smart buildings.

The Best Practices Technology Showcase for Intelligent Buildings

29 Nov 2013

Realcomm’s upcoming webinar on “Best Practices – Best of the Best for 2013 Intelligent Building Technologies” to be held on 12/12/2013, is a timely look at some of the best practices adopted in technology integration in intelligent buildings. For an industry that is still grappling with how to define intelligence, and most importantly take the right decision in investing in intelligent solutions, this webinar will offer crucial pointers towards what is available within the domain of best-in-class technology from some of the active innovators in this industry. It is my privilege to moderate a distinguished panel of speakers from organizations such as Tridium, LinkSprings, ESI, Switch Automation and Building IQ on this very pertinent subject.


An intelligent building transcends integration of systems and sub systems to achieve interaction in which the previously independent systems work collectively to optimize the building’s performance and constantly create an environment that is most conducive to the occupants’ goals. Additionally, fully interoperable systems in intelligent buildings tend to perform better, cost less to maintain, and leave a smaller environmental imprint than individual utilities and communication systems. The end goal for any intelligent building is to conform to fully dynamic environment that responds to occupants’ changing needs and lifestyles. As technology advances and as information and communication expectations become more sophisticated, networking solutions both converge and automate the technologies to improve responsiveness, efficiency, and performance. To achieve this, an intelligent building combines data, voice, and video with security, heating, ventilation, air conditioning, and refrigeration, lighting, building controls, and other electronic controls on a single IP network platform that facilitates user management, space utilization, energy conservation, comfort, and systems improvement.

Given that the industry has come to agree on some of the salient principles of achieving intelligence in a building such as, embracing the idea of open architecture, interoperable systems, integrated and IP-centric intelligent building technologies, etc., it is inevitable that the number of technology options to achieve these principles is mushrooming. Keeping up with these technologies is an increasingly challenging task for not only building owners and operators, but most importantly the value chain that services this industry. It is almost impossible for system integrators, contractors, and for that matter even consultants and design build service providers to keep pace with technology innovations and advancements achieved by the vendor community. This often results in transactional practices and value engineered approaches overriding a well justified investment in the appropriate intelligent technology option that could benefit a building.

Of course, the degree of “intelligence” varies by the sophistication underlying the software-aided applications and communication network that helps these devices and systems function in an interoperable manner and share operational data. This ultimately forms the backbone of this evolving concept. Examples of intelligent buildings in North America range widely, starting with structures where some degree of system automation and control strategies have been implemented to achieve significant reduction in energy and resource wastage, to a comprehensive enterprise-wide integrated platform that eliminates all silos. Intelligent buildings today exist within three distinct profiles: non-integrated, partially integrated, and fully integrated buildings. While the majority of buildings today conform to the first two profiles, it is the fully integrated profile that ultimately provides the building its intelligence quotient. Intelligence, in turn, is dependent upon the level of system integration, interoperability, inter-communication, and granular visibility into the operational dynamics that has been achieved in a building.

However, a key challenge for building owners and service providers is understanding what is the best option available to design and maintain intelligence in their buildings over time. Hearing from the experts will provide the necessary knowledge of best practices and technology advancement that can be incorporated into their buildings, while also being able to justify short and long-term ROI. Join me and my panel of experts in this great information showcase on 12/12/2013.

Making LEDs Accessible to the Consumer

30 Oct 2013

In September this year, Philips lighting announced its ambitious plan to collaborate with retailer Staples to bring LED lighting within affordability and accessibility to the general consumer. This partnership with Staples will see Philips’ Energy Star-rated LED products retailed across 360 Staples stores in North America. The complete portfolio of products to be made available to the consumer is expected to include 60, 75 and 100-watt LED equivalents from Philips, in addition to the latest Philips Hue lighting systems. For those from the building technology industry that frequent Lightfair every year, this would ring in some familiarity. The product bagged a Lightfair 2013 innovation award for Philips (recognized with the Judges Citation Award and also as the winner of the dynamic color category). Utility rebates that could accrue instantaneously from the use of these products will make it attractive to the consumer. Besides the ability to pick the product off-the-shelf from familiar retailers, virtually eliminate recurring replacement expenses, and drastically reduce electricity consumption are certainly demand boosters.

While this has been on the agenda of majority of LED suppliers for some time, it is only in the last one year that some of these have come to fruition. Enabling suppliers to get closer to their strategies are a host of innovations in the area of lamp and luminaire design, component design, thermal management, tuning and color rendering, among others. It is the lamp designers and materials companies that are ultimately enabling the change. For Philips, having Lumileds as a vertically integrated subsidiary within the company perhaps makes it easier to achieve their innovation and time-to-market agenda around these LED products. However, that is not a determining factor when other suppliers are considered. GE Lighting for instance, is moving ahead with its innovative LED products without any in-house manufacturing. GE’s Reveal category of LED lamps also boasts of some of these innovative properties mentioned above. However, there is one aspect of Reveal that could resonate better with the average consumer, if the price is set attractively (Reveal is still among the premium set of LED lamps marketed today) – the legacy lamp look. Behaviorally consumers are more inclined to pick something off-the-shelf that resembles what they already use. As an average consumer I am no exception to this. And like me, there are thousands out there that have wanted to make the switch to LED, but felt it was somewhat alien to what we knew for a lamp.

Now coming back to the point of affordability, one needs to subjectively consider what that threshold would be. First of all, being able to pick the products in a do-it-yourself (DIY) package from a regular retailer/supermarket makes it clear that we are indeed getting closer to affordability that we think. And this is not just facilitated by innovations and LED suppliers’ strategies. Initiatives from retailers are equally important to make this happen. Let us take the example of IKEA for instance. Walking through the nearest IKEA store, we have all probably heard their public announcement system from time to time blurting out their commitment to sustainability, and that they are revamping all store lighting, as well as retailed lighting products to LEDs by 2016. Not surprising that in the last one year I have seen more LED lighting options within attractive price points at IKEA that I have felt compelled to purchase. They are aesthetically appealing, consumes fewer than 5 watts in actual consumption, and best of all DIY. The life cycle cost is next to nothing when I consider what standard halogens or even CFLs would entail.

But a $10 price tag on a retail store LED product may make IKEA LEDs seem like a premium option. In early March this year, North Carolina-based Cree, Inc. announced that it has finally broken the $10 barrier in LED pricing with its 40-watt equivalent warm white LED ($12.97 for the 60-watt warm white replacement and $13.97 for the 60-watt day light). These bulbs reportedly save 84 percent energy compared to incandescent, come with a 10-year warranty and are exclusively available through the Home Depot. Clearly retailers like Home Depot are taking a diligent step to work with their manufacturing partners to help consumers make that switch. And at a price point of $10, it is not just an experimental switch, but a reason to upgrade the billions of energy wasting light bulbs currently in circulation.

And just this month, Walmart announced that it is introducing its Great Value line of high-efficiency LED light bulbs for under $10 in its U.S. stores and online. The array of products includes 26 different types of bulbs, with the least expensive – a non-dimmable 60-watt equivalent – selling for $8.88, and the dimmable version for a dollar more. In addition to the Great Value line, Walmart is also offering a new dimmable GE LED for under $11. The Walmart and GE LED offerings will certainly help broaden the market for cost-effective LEDs along the lines of what IKEA, Staples-Philips, and the Cree-Home Depot partnerships are expected to do.

The $10 price point for North American consumers may seem attractive enough. But when you consider the millions of consumers in the developing world, some of whom are yet to switch on their first light bulb, and where LEDs hold tremendous potential for bringing about change, affordability would take on a whole new definition. The innovation in design, output and components of LED hold far bigger promise for such consumers. And suppliers are taking full advantage by combining these with the affordable mass manufacturing capability of designations like China. For instance, the online, as well as brick-and-mortar retail market for LED products in South Asia offers extremely affordable prices. The appeal factors do not differ much in those products from their branded North American counterparts – legacy look and feel, easy installation, extended life with virtually negligible total cost of ownership. Massive government push and proactive support from not-for-profit agencies are helping fulfill the lighting dream in remote parts of Asia, thanks to breakthroughs in LED technology. For the general consumer there, finding an affordable and more efficient replacement, which also resembles existing products makes LED replacements a lot easier. Local hardware shops and small lighting specialty stores make up for the absence of the giant big box retailers. But the variety in products and price points makes for little comparison to the limited repertoire of alternatives available in the North American context. Let me illustrate this with my personal experience. The range hood over the kitchen cooktop of my secondary home in Goa, Western India, needed its standard halogen bulb replaced. After searching for months for a replacement in the local market, my house caretaker finally found an exact LED 2-pin replacement for just $3 at a local hardware store. It would certainly do the same job as its branded counterpart sold in a large North American big box retail store. This convinces me beyond doubt that no matter how affordable we think we are getting to LED price points, there is still room for more. And that manufacturers need to look at best ways of marrying the technology innovation aspect of LED with smarter manufacturing and channel management to allow consumers to reap the lasting benefit of switching over to LED.

For North American consumers who are comfortable buying products online, the price points are certainly getting more attractive. Lemnis, for instance, unveiled three new lines of its Pharox LED replacement bulb. The 200-lumen Pharox BLU is priced at $4.95, and the 350-lumen Parox Blu for $6.95, sold exclusively through the company’s website. Like Lemis, there are several others in the no-frill, non-dimmable consumer LED category that are available at highly attractive prices online. Though, it may take a little while for average consumers to order an LED replacement bulb online, just as easily as they would order other replacement products for the home, such as appliances. The alien aspect that I alluded to earlier which most consumers associate LEDs with, could continue to work as a deterrent. And that makes the off-the-shelf versions far more within their accessible range, allowing them to see, feel, and question someone at the store before they buy.

A recent U.S. Department of Energy forecast predicts that LEDs will represent 76 percent of the general illumination market by 2030 in North America. At the present rate of innovations and price competitiveness, it may not be surprising to surpass that target well within the next decade. Either way, it appears that the time of the LED light bulb is finally here. Karl Braun may have discovered the semiconductor by mistake. But breaking output, quality, technical, and most importantly price barriers in LED are outcomes of far more planned and serious initiatives to achieve each of these breakthroughs by industry participants, who clearly understands how LED fits into the vision of the future of this planet. Their ability to fit in the last link – bringing consumers closer to the product, is perhaps by far the most rewarding achievement of these initiatives.

Appointment of Todd Raba as new CEO of GridPoint, Inc - A crucial turn for the company and the enterprise energy management solutions industry

17 Oct 2013

This morning’s announcement from GridPoint, Inc. regarding the appointment of new CEO Todd Raba certainly ushers in some positive changes not only for the company, but for the enterprise energy management market itself.


Since Peter Corsell founded GridPoint in 2003, the company has witnessed CEO changes periodically, each marking a forward shift in strategy, market positioning and growth for GridPoint. While outgoing CEO John Spirtos’ leadership did help continue the growth story, Raba’s appointment could potentially help initiate the next stage of strategic turnaround for the company in the fast evolving energy management market.

Raba’s experience, both on the consumer and producer side of energy, spans over 30 years, which also includes two Berkshire Hathaway Inc. companies - Johns Manville and MidAmerican Energy Company. This, and a successful stint as board member with GridPoint, prior to taking charge as CEO, does provide him an edge in steering the company to its next phase of growth, innovation and expansion. To start with, his hands-on experience in the energy sector, renewables, operational experience, and past engagement with the housing and building construction sectors are all assets that, needless to say, will be advantageous to his new role with GridPoint.

The energy management solutions market is expected to register double digit growth consistently over the next decade. However, solutions in the area of home and enterprise energy management are far from being comprehensive, with the exception of a few. GridPoint’s data-driven solution, as per Frost & Sullivan’s continued evaluation, is by far one of the most end-to-end solution available to consumers at present.

Under Raba’s leadership, the industry should expect to see further innovations leading to enhanced robustness in the solution, including advanced algorithms for proactive energy optimization, environmental tracking and carbon conversion. It is most likely that a much anticipated market move into the billing and rate optimization area for the company could come to fruition.

While it is early to predict GridPoint’s expected growth trajectory from today’s announcement, it does make it inevitable that the company’s growth drive is set for some exciting turns ahead. Most importantly, the EMS industry players should watch out, and plan for some competitive disruptions ahead for themselves.


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