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We are on the verge of a sea change in commercial and residential lighting.
It’s been almost 140 years since Edison, Swan, and others gave us the incandescent light bulb. It wasn’t until the 1930s that fluorescent lighting entered the commercial market, and that was primarily for industrial and commercial applications. Then, around 1995, compact fluorescent lamps—Cf Ls—became available for residential consumers.
But recently, LED lighting has been making rapid inroads in both industrial / commercial and residential markets. Now we’re about to witness a fundamental shift in how we light our homes and offices. Leading the way is Canadian startup iLLUMA-Drive Inc., and they’re doing it with DC power.
A century ago, Nikola Tesla essentially won the Current War, the economic and technological dispute between alternating current and direct current. Since then, virtually every building constructed—residential and commercial—has used the same electrical wiring for lighting as is used for everything else. It’s all been running the same alternating current, and it’s all been tied to the same fuse panel or circuit breakers.
As a result, what we’ve been able to do with our lighting has been limited. For the most part, it’s been either lights on or lights off. Perhaps some lights can be controlled from a wall switch with a dimmer, but that’s about it.
But it doesn’t have to be this way.
iLLUMA-Drive’s solution frees lighting from the constraints of the AC world. Robert Keane, VP of Marketing and Business Development with iLLUMA-Drive, comments, “This is part of the DC evolution of electricity. The drive in the market for DC based primarily on technology and IT is dramatic and increasing all the time. So what we’re trying to do is bring that IT and DC revolution into the home and business.”
Of course, DC is already flowing in homes and businesses. DC is used in almost all electronic devices, as well as for signaling and control circuits between AC appliances; your thermostat likely communicates with your furnace and air conditioner using a DC signal. And while most lighting runs on AC, today there’s no reason it should.
LED lighting is DC-based. Most current LED systems operate on AC power, but only because the high voltage AC is changed into low voltage DC at the light fixture or in the bulb itself.
iLLUMA-Drive takes a wholly different approach. The heart of their platform is the iD1 Controller. The iD1 puts out direct current from a central box, which is then distributed throughout the building over low voltage class 2 wiring directly to LED fixtures. This offers several advantages.
First, it’s 90% plus more efficient in terms of energy use compared to incandescent 120 volt lighting systems.
The system uses class 2 wiring (16 or 18 gauge) which is cheaper than the 12 or 14 gauge wiring typical for standard AC cabling.
The LED light fixtures are also cheaper and smaller, since they don’t have to include an AC to DC inverter.
Lighting can be controlled from a central location which in turn can be linked to smartphone apps, sensors, and home automation systems.
Robert notes, “With the iD1, not only are we providing power, but we’re providing communication to different zones and capabilities where you can vary intensity, color, all of the different variables that you want to control. We put that capability and control into the user’s hands via an application, for example on an iPhone or an Android.”
iLLUMA-Drive’s iD1 really shines when it’s combined with their intelligent energy storage system, Neo. Neo has both AC and DC inputs, and AC and DC outputs for optimal versatility. This allows it to draw power from the grid, as well as from solar panels or other renewable energy systems, while outputting the DC used by the iD1 for lighting and the AC used by standard electric appliances.
For example, with a Neo configured at 8kW, you could run a sump pump for 2 to 3 hours, a furnace for 24 hours, a refrigerator for 1 to 2 days, a 50″ LED television for 32 hours, or critical lighting (through the iD1) for 7 days. Recharge the Neo with solar panels supplying DC, and these run times can be extended indefinitely.
As an added benefit, Robert emphasizes that compared to similar products recently announced by other manufacturers, Neo “will be much more competitively priced.”
Simply powering lights and other appliances with battery packs charged by renewable energy is not revolutionary. But iLLUMA-Drive’s plans don’t stop there. Robert says, “Think of this as our operating system or communication level for all of the products we’ll be developing over the next 12 to 18 months. We’ve got a very robust road map.”
Rather than stand in isolation, iLLUMA-Drive’s innovations will work in cooperation with existing systems. Robert explains, “We’re very open source with what we want to achieve, so we can integrate with existing sensors that are already in place. Our devices are designed to speak to these partners. So, for example, if you have a presence center our devices will work with that presence center to manage the lights. We didn’t want to create another walled garden, so it’s open to partners like Control4. Any of these types of systems that are already there, we can work with them.”
Explaining iLLUMA-Drive’s strategy, Robert concludes, “Our idea is to take a non-Uber style approach. We don’t want to disrupt, we don’t want to change. What we want to do is enhance the existing channels through building contractors, electrical contractors, interior designers, architects. We want to provide them with new services, new ways to really wow their customers.”