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Electric Light Documentary: Q+A with Rod Heller

Lighting Design Q and A With Rod Heller

Rod Heller, lead lighting designer and managing partner of Energy Performance Lighting

In his quest to understand how we are influenced by light, Rod Heller, lead lighting designer and managing partner of Energy Performance Lighting, produced a documentary that he hopes will help enlighten consumers. “Electric Light: Dawn of a New Era” recently aired regionally and can be viewed online as well: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PoWFY5Ed7q4. IES asked Heller about his motivations for producing the documentary and what he hopes to achieve with it.

Q. What is your background and how did you get involved with lighting?

A. I actually have a BS in agriculture. I have an entrepreneurial bent and was in the food industry back in the 90s. I had a dot-com [business] where we sold meat by the truckload over the web. Well, you know what happened to the dot-coms—they became the dot-bombs! I then did some investments and ended up helping a friend with his lighting company on the marketing side. I did not know much, but I had a good teacher! The first year I was involved with some easy gym and swimming pool projects. Then I saw the results, financially and visually. I knew there was something to this world and that it was beginning to change fast. I had no clue just how fast it would evolve. I saw some great opportunity and ended up buying out my friend after three years.

Q. What was your motivation for creating this documentary?

A. I was teaching a friend about lighting and how to light her house, and she said “You should make a TV show on this, you explain it well and I understand it.” I am a risk taker so I thought let’s do it and see if I can tell the world how their light is going to change. I wanted it to air nationwide but I just got regional coverage. People need to know how lighting is going to change. The average person really has no clue what is in store. They are so accustomed to a glowing filament and do not know what an LED is! Since I started to learn how light affects us physiologically, I have been hooked. We have way too many questions and not enough answers. I truly believe we can improve world health by 15-20% just by getting light right. We were not built to work third shift. We were not built to work 8-12 hours a day during the winter. We got up with the sun and went to bed with the sun. This works in the summer, but not in the winter. Tell your boss that is what you think you should do come October, and he will think you are nuts! We need to have a quest to find the answers and understand how we are influenced by light. This documentary is my first shot at trying to enlighten the general public (sorry about the pun). As we keep going down the technology path it will get easier, I hope.

Q. What are some of the common misconceptions about lighting that you hope the documentary will clear up? What are the biggest takeaways for the consumer?

A. I want them to know how much money they can save and I want them to start thinking about how light affects them physiologically. To me the latter is huge. I also want them to know that energy-efficient lighting does not cost more, it actually saves money! And I want them to understand that the light we have been working under for 100 years is not necessarily the best light for us. We need to begin to think of light as something that has a strong influence on how our body functions and operates. It can be good and bad for us, and we are just beginning to understand that.

Q. What do you think the next era holds for lighting?

A. There will be a transition from LED to OLED in 5-10 years, but not for everything. LEDs throw light very well compared to OLED and we still need to light areas, not just rooms. LEDs will come on very strong based on energy savings. Then I think it will be tunable lighting or light that changes color based on time of day or your work schedule so your body performs at performance whether you are working, relaxing, or sleeping. Then OLEDs, or even what I call LECs, light-emitting chemicals. I believe we are within 20 years of painting our walls with a chemical that will not only be your light source, but will also be your computer screen or your TV screen. It will be in 360 or even 720! We will laugh at an electrician doing lighting. It will be a computer programmer!

Q. How can the consumer keep up with the constantly changing technology?

A. We need documentaries like this. What is wild is once you get out of the lighting industry, very few people have a handle on what is going on. It is going to be a huge undertaking in education. Think about it: we are going from a hot filament to computer chip for a light source. Find an electrician that understands that and then think about the consumer who has been screwing a light bulb in for 100 years and only had to think about whether it was a 60-watt replacement. Now hit them with Kelvin, CRI, visual acuity, Seasonal Affective Disorder, and lamp life of 50,000 hours. Heck, the next generation will have to Google “How do I change a light bulb?”

Rodney Heller LC, CLEP, is Senior Designer at Energy Performance Lighting, a design-build lighting firm for existing buildings. He has over 10 years of field experience, is lead author of the Illuminating Engineering Society’s Upgrading Lighting Systems in Commercial & Institutional Space, and a board member of the Association of Energy Engineers. Retrofit lighting upgrades are all he does, and his designs commonly achieve 70-75% energy savings while taking into account how light affects human productivity.

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