cleantech
cleantech insights

All of the Lights: Not LEDs, says Lumiette

Josh Gould

Even those with only cursory exposure to the lighting industry have heard about LEDs (light-emitting diodes).  Extremely energy efficient and manufactured in a process analogous to semi-conductors, LEDs have spawned a tremendous amount of corporate activity – from heavyweights like Philips making major LED pushes, to high profile startups like Bridgelux and Lemnis Lighting (all of which we cover in our lighting industry analysis here).

But despite all the LED hype – which is particularly strong here in an innovation hub like Silicon Valley – has anyone stopped to recognize that over 80% of the installed base of lights are still “old school” fluorescents and incandescents?  And have all those LED enthusiasts encountered some of the (admittedly debatable) complaints about LED light color and quality?  Further, does anyone realize that the biggest ESCOs like Johnson Controls are still almost entirely swapping old fluorescent fixtures for newer ones, instead of installing LEDs or fancy lighting controls systems?

Lumiette is a Silicon Valley based flourescent lighting startup playing to these contrarian facts.  Founded in 2007 by lighting and semiconductor industry veterans, the company has IP around an ultra-efficient, flat panel lamp with cathodes on the exterior; moving the electrode

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Is cleantech a service industry?

Josh Gould

Services, as any economist would tell you, are hugely important to the economies of developed countries.  In the European Union, where this post is being written (I’m here for our wonderful Amsterdam event), services make up 71% of the economy.  In the US, it is even higher (at 77%).  In fact, it’s likely that you – the reader – are part of the service economy.

Against this service-centric economy, popular media has often portrayed cleantech as a starkly different type of industry – one that is manufacturing-centric and commodity-reliant.  Think of utility scale wind turbines, or solar manufacturing, or even hybrids.  And these examples illustrate the stereotype is not entirely off the mark.  But we at Cleantech Group believe the next wave of cleantech will be much more heavily focused on services.  Here are just a few examples of where and how this is happening, in cleantech-sectors stereotyped as “dumb” or hardware-centric:

  • Lighting: Innovation in lighting types (e.g., LED, OLED, etc.) is extending the operational life of fixtures up to 100,000 hours.  While this is excellent for consumers, it challenges the traditional, large lighting companies’ business models of selling fixtures, waiting a few years, and selling the consumer new fixtures when the

Powergetics and the rise of the business case

Josh Gould

One of the key trends we’ve seen in cleantech recently is what we call, colloquially, “the rise of the business case.”  When large companies and startups have been able to quantify the benefits of a given investment to customers – providing some sort of financial metric like an IRR, ROI or simple payback period – they have weathered the headwinds of a tough economy.  Examples include large energy services businesses like Johnson Controls, Honeywell, and Schneider Electric.  Startup examples include efficiency-related companies who can quantify their value propositions – names like Scientific Conservation and BuildingIQ in the building, and Lumenergi, Daintree, and Digital Lumens in lighting.

But in energy storage, making a business case can be very hard.  Not only is the data sometimes ambiguous/flawed/non-existent, building that data into a business case is difficult. Energy storage company Ice Energy, for instance, has a link to a 65 page guide for modeling the value proposition for distributed storage on their website.  Grid storage may be even more difficult; to make economic sense a deployment must (almost always) address multiple benefits.  But addressing certain benefits involves the opportunity cost of operating the device in a …

Another win for lighting controls as Redwood closes $15M round

Emma Ritch

Fremont, Calif.-based startup Redwood Systems revealed today it closed a $15 million Series B round for its LED lighting control system, coming on the heels of a $12.7 million Series B for Lumenergi, a lighting controls startup based in nearby Newark, California.

The two companies are illustrative of a fast-growing sub-sector within lighting that’s gaining investor support and market adoption. Lighting controls companies secured 16% of VC investment within lighting from 2005 to 2010, but that’s jumped to 21% in 2009 and 2010 to-date.

Source: Cleantech Group analysis

Why all the interest? Lighting is considered the low-hanging fruit for energy efficiency retrofits, as illumination accounts for  44% of electricity in U.S. office buildings and a quarter of the energy in residential buildings–roughly the same energy consumed by cooling. Lighting controls–including software, sensors, drivers, fixtures, and intelligent ballasts–can maximize energy efficiency of multiple lighting sources, with some vendors claiming up to 75% reduction in energy use due to controls technology.

Redwood offers a unique lighting control system that combines power and control of LEDs over the same low-voltage data cable for office buildings and data centers. While adoption of LEDs is projected to increase to about 80% of the …

Big promises, but can lighting control systems deliver?

Emma Ritch

Lighting control systems are a hot sector within cleantech. The technology holds the promise of up to 75% reduction in energy use with little, if any, change in occupant behavior. Lighting accounts for about 20% of electricity use in the U.S., for example, so adoption of LCS can have a significant impact on worldwide energy consumption and emissions.

Source: U.S. Department of Energy Buildings Energy Data Book, Sept. 2008

There is significant buzz around the four startups that have come out of stealth in the past year—Adura Technologies, Redwood Systems, Daintree Networks and Cavet Technologies—as well as startups with slightly longer track records, Encelium Technologies and Starfield Controls. There are numerous other startups we’re tracking with complementary and tangential technology solutions, including Lumenergi, Digital Lumens, Juice Technology, Octus Energy and Echoflex.

ESCOs and major lighting corporations are amongst those in trials with LCS startups, and many LCS solutions are near commercial deployment thanks to the overlap in expertise with the IT sector.

Yet for all this attention, the LCS sector is still very early. Estimates are that fewer than 1% of buildings have advanced LCS installed. And there has been little …