In this ‘Insights from Industry’ the CEO of enLighten, David Whitfield, discusses the environmental benefits of LEDs and how Australia could be doing more to promote clean technology. Interview conducted by Gary Thomas.
GT: Could you please provide a brief introduction to the industry that enLighten works within and outline the key drivers?
DW: While perceived to be a lighting company, most of enLighten’s customers already have light. The purchasing “driver” for our clients is energy saving – regulatory changes in the built environments, especially commercial and industrial buildings are forcing owners to make their buildings more energy efficiency. Our patented products are successfully delivering project based energy savings up to 93%.
The commercial and industrial built environments will replace an estimated $10billion worth of lighting infrastructure with new technologies over the next 10 years. Unless the government supports the creation of an LED lighting manufacturing industry here in Australia, most of this lighting will be sourced from Asia. Another wasted opportunity caused by Australia’s lack of a national industry development vision?
GT: Could you please give a brief overview of enLighten?
DW: enLighten is an innovation company focused on delivering energy efficiency to the built environment, primarily through lighting and building occupancy management.
Started in late 2008, enLighten has built a small but diversified management team that focused on R&D for two years before taking any products to the market.
Through this strong focus on product development and R&D, enLighten is developing a unique blend of products delivering world-leading energy efficiency outcomes. Many of our products are protected by patents which enables enLighten to deliver outcomes than cannot be matched by our competitors
Since the beginning of 2011, enLighten has doubled its turnover every six months and expects to continue this trend for the next year or two!
GT: What are LEDs and how are these different to normal lightbulbs?
DW: LED is an electronic component. The technology, although first created in the middle of last century, only became commercially viable towards the end of last decade. Because it is a solid state electronic component, the Light Emitting Diode (LED) generally does not “fail” in normal operation – although if not properly treated, it can burn-out like any other electronic component.
LEDs when included in a well designed fixture can generally last beyond 50,000 hours before the light levels depreciate to an unacceptable level. However, LEDs in a poorly designed fixture can fail in just a couple of thousand hours.
However, in most applications, the LED itself is not the weak link, it is the electronic “Driver” than powers the LEDs that will fail first. Poor Drivers can last as little as 2,000 hours and very good drivers can last as long as 100,000 hours.
The efficiency of LED will double within 5 years and at the same time, electricity prices will also double. Because of this, we design our fixtures with a life expectancy of five years. We also design the lights so that technology upgrades are simply and easily achieved through our “plug and play” technology. This will deliver a second round of environmental benefits and lower energy costs.
A significant difference with LED light over other light sources is that they are directional. In most cases, this will deliver light more efficiently than traditional lighting types.
Most other light sources do not like to be turned off or dimmed, but LED actually benefits from being turned on and off or dimmed. This enables a range of additional energy efficiency initiatives to be efficiently paired with LED lighting, including occupancy management and day light harvesting.
GT: What are the environmental benefits of using LED lights?
DW: At a primary level, LEDs can deliver 50% to 70% energy savings. When combined with intelligent control systems, energy savings up to 93% are regularly being achieved by enLighten.
If every light in Australia was converted to an intelligent LED light, the electrical energy saving would be 15% of the country’s electrical consumption!
Longer life also equates to less maintenance and less waste to landfill. The “all of life” footprint of well designed LEDs is significantly smaller than other lighting products.
GT: Are there any other benefits, such as cost, to using LED lights?
DW: With reductions of up to 93%, the direct cost of ownership is significantly less than traditional lighting.
In commercial and industrial lighting, maintenance of lighting is a significant cost component. The greater reliability of LED (when well designed) can reduce maintenance costs to as little as 10% of the existing maintenance costs
LED contains no dangerous chemicals so can be disposed of through any normal electronics product recycling process.
GT: Your Chamaeleon multi-function light was launched back in 2011 - could you tell us a little bit more about this and how this is unique in its field?
DW: Chamaeleon uses a patented design that provides two separate lighting circuits inside one light. Designed for fire stairs, car parks and back of house in commercial, industrial and high rise residential, Chamaeleon primarily replaces lights that currently burn 24/7. These areas tend to be permanently lit to meet safety and regulatory requirements.
Chamaeleon provides low level lighting (Circa 6W – 7W) when the space is unoccupied and the main light will activate (circa 25W) when a person enters the space. Ten seconds after you leave the space, the lights will return to low level. When replacing a double 1200mm fluorescent fixture (circa 100W) with a light that uses as little as 6W in low power, the savings are substantial. Light – where it is needed, when it is needed!
GT: Could you explain in more detail how enLighten has re-designed the LED tube to provide energy efficiency and safety?
DW: Although enLighten has a patent on the LED tube, we believe there are better ways to utilise the benefits of LED and for this reason, we normally only sell LED tubes when there is no other cost effective solution for the client’s application.
The original LED tubes were designed with a direct flow-through of electricity (active power one end and neutral power the other end). This makes electrocution a distinct possibility. The R&D team realised the danger of this when we first started researching LED and red-designed the LED tube to overcome this safety issue.
Many LED tubes currently being installed in Australia are in breach of our granted Patent and enLighten will begin enforcing its rights under this patent in the second half of this year.
GT: In what kind of situations have your products been used?
DW: Many of Australia’s large REIT’s now use our products throughout their portfolios. We are also doing installations in shopping centres, industrial complexes and retail spaces. High rise residential is also an area where our products are receiving wide acceptance and we have recently been awarded several projects for NSW Land and Housing Corporation.
GT: Do you feel enough is being done to promote growing cleantech companies?
DW: As the instigator/convenor of Innovating Innovation Australia (IIA), I strongly believe that Australia does not do enough to promote, support or commercialise NGE’s generally and Cleantech NGE’s specifically. Australia has an abysmal record on support of commercialisation and on many leading world indicators, we do not feature in the top 100 countries.
IIA is a forum to promote awareness, discussion and future direction for innovation and commercialisation of innovation in Australia. The forum had its first face to face discussion in Sydney this week (14th August) where 30 motivated and focused individuals developed an initial action plan to start Australia on the path of becoming once again, the clever country. The attendees were from most States and from a range of industry, government and educational institutions.
GT: enLighten has patented a wide range of technologies over the last few years, are there any new projects planned for the near future?
DW: There are still a couple of product ideas undergoing feasibility studies to determine if they justify being patented. Of the existing patents, a few have very significant international potential and enLighten is currently looking at options to fast track the commercialisation of these technologies. Joint venture partners will possibly be sought for a couple of these in the near future.