L+B: Interview with Ron Sege, Chairman and CEO, Echelon

At Light + Building in Frankfurt, your humble editor had a wide-ranging discussion with sat down with Ron Sege, Chairman and CEO, Echelon.  Ron discusses IzoT(tm) as well as Silicon Valley's take on our industry. 

Read the highlights below:

Randy:  Take our audience to the basics about controls and tell us what Echelon does.

Ron:  We have been around for 25 years and we pioneered the notion of an open standard where any device can connect with any other device.  Along came LonWorks and people could mix and match between different manufacturers.  You could now use a Honeywell air conditioner and a Trane thermostat. 

Randy:  Is the premise basically a chip inside of a luminaire that allows for communication? 

Ron:  Yes, that was the beginning of Echelon.  Companies purchased echelon chips and incorporated those chips into the end product in a wide range of applications such as lighting, HVAC, train braking systems, even to monitor nuclear stock piles for leakage.  Echelon is used wherever connectivity is needed across devices, and today we have 120 million units connected with Echelon.

Randy:  Tell us about the IzoT Platform.

Ron:   When we began deploying LonWorks, we were initially the only open protocol, and along came others such as BACNet, Wi-Fi, Zigbee, and  others.  Our customers asked us to incorporate those protocols into our chipset which we did and renamed it IzoT which has all of these protocols within one big network,  for the Internet of Things.

Randy:  What is your L+B booth number and what are you showing?

Ron: We are in Hall 5.0, B45 and are showing the IzoT suite of embedded system as well as showing off our lighting control solutions.   Specifically, we are displaying interoperable luminaires connected to our gateway and demonstrating how streetlights and other lights from various manufactures can be connected together into one controllable system.

Randy:  We saw a press release about a large job in Cambridge. 

Ron:  Cambridge, MA deployed about 5500 lights, which was combination of cobraheads for street lighting as well as many decorative luminaires.    We created one system with multiple controllable zones.  In addition to turning on and off, we dim the luminaires for additional savings.   The city retrofitted their existing luminaires with LED and deployed Echelon using a combination of wireless and power line carrier communications.  We used wireless on the cobraheads and PLC on the decorative, as our system supports both.  This way no one has to drill holes in the decorative fixtures and add antennas. 

Randy:  If a customer typically saves 50% with LED, how much additional can they save with controls? 

Ron: Typically Echelon will save about an additional 35%.   In Cambridge, when the lights turn on at sunset, they start out at about 50% and then the intensity changes at various times during the night based on whether it is a residential area or industrial area.  Also, as the LED output degrades over time, which they do, the city turns the lights up to maintain a constant light level.

Randy: Controls, in my humble opinion, have historically been slow to be adopted mainly because of cost and complexity.   They are finally taking off, do you agree?

Ron:  Absolutely, there is more awareness, as we are all doing LED retrofits. However, LED has had only about a 5% penetration rate.  More people are figuring out the time to deploy controls is during the retrofit as the incremental cost to deploy is only an additional 10% but they save an additional 35%, so it makes sense to do this with the retrofit.  Today we focus on energy savings in the future, we will do traffic count, and color tuning and we will improve safety as well as increase comfort. 

Randy:  We are here at L+B in 2016, if we sit down again in 2020, what will we talk about?

Ron:  Controls will be more tightly integrated with the drivers and the LEDs; we are already seeing this with blue tooth incorporated in the LED Bulbs in the consumer space. You will see it in industrial and in streetlighting.  In addition, you can impact strategic output in a business, such a putting sensors in grocery stores to track people walking down aisles and whether they stop in displays. 

Randy:  ByteLight is doing this with Acuity….

Ron:  Yes, it is a very specialized application and in the future it will be more generalized.

Randy:  What is your opinion about privacy?  My wife is nervous about being tracked in Target.

Ron:  There are various levels of tracking today such as occupancy sensors, which is a level of tracking.  My view is so long as a consumer is aware and is participating actively in the level of tracking, it’s OK and they may want Target to know who they are so Target can offer them tailored deals. 

Randy:  You are a Silicon Valley guy, what does the valley think of lighting right now?  I hear they are unhappy with our industry.

Ron:  I would not say that.  I don’t think that is true, but I would say that the level of awareness of lighting is not where it should be in Silicon Valley.   We have two or three billion cell phones in the world and 20 to 30 billion lights and the pace of which the lights are being retrofitted to LED is unprecedented.   If you think that 5% of 30 billion has been retrofitted, there is a huge opportunity.  I do think that the Valley is waking up to the impact and importance of lighting and LEDs and we are seeing more companies funded in the control space….

Randy:  ….but more investment to software companies than to hardware companies….

Ron:  It is, but that is the direction of Silicon Valley, today. I grew up as a hardware guy, but I bet you will see that pendulum swing back.  But that’s Ron Sege’s view.  It is my personal view.  In five years they will be investing more in hardware, as there will be too much software investment and too little hardware investment.

Randy:  What are your LIGHTFAIR plans in San Diego?

Ron:   We are very excited about LIGHTFAIR and we will be exhibiting our Cambridge applications where cobraheads and decorative will be together.  We want to show that Echelon allows customers to really connect anything to anything.