Smart-lighting India: In conversation with Harsh Chitale - CEO of Philips Lighting, South Asia

The lighting infrastructure in India is changing rapidly alongside the greater digitisation drive India is going through. Lightbulbs used to be use-and-throw products but today we have advanced bulbs which are both energy efficient and come with advance features such as remote management. These light sources also known as smart lights are now moving beyond its functional aspect and making inroads into our lifestyle. Latest advances also make it easier to light-smart your home on top of your exiting lighting arrangement. 

However, the greater India isn't yet moving from the standard Rs 10 incandescent lamps to smart lighting devices for houses, offices, and cities. The overall penetration of smart lighting in India is still at a nascent stage with a meagre five per cent presence in the lighting industry. 

Rural India still favors conventional power guzzlers over CFLs and LED lightbulbs. And it's purely because of affordability. But clearly a trend is setting in with awareness for efficient lighting going up.  Plus, with the Government undertaking several programmes for LEDification of the country and phasing out incandescent bulbs, the country appears to be ready to embrace smart lights on a scale.

Philips Lighting has a large R&D base and factories here in India and almost 95% of what they sell in India is made in India. The company, which is betting big on its smart lighting solutions, has its smart light product-line called Philips Hue currently available in India. 

To understand the bigger picture, we caught with up Harsh Chitale, the CEO of Philips Lighting, South Asia.

What’s the current state of lighting infrastructure in India across homes, offices and public spaces?

We have seen a significant increase in the speed of digital transformation of lighting over the past two years. With the advent of LED lighting, the industry has transformed from analogue to digital as LED lighting allows users to control, monitor and measure lighting output. This transformation is taking place across public, home and professional lighting. 

India is home to the world’s youngest population that is increasingly smartphone savvy and an early adopter of the latest technology trends available globally. We have witnessed a growing awareness about IoT and connected lighting amongst consumers. Philips has launched Hue for tech-savvy population who are keen on enhancing their lifestyle using technology. The dominant share of LED in consumer space is 50-50. 

As India’s business landscape matures, expectations of a new generation of employees from their workplaces have increased. These developments have led to the emergence of smart and connected offices, where the Internet of Things drives new ways to collaborate, innovate and socialize.  

More than 75% of lights that are now sold are LED lights. Thanks to Smart City programme that’s underway and the government’s drive towards energy efficiency. More than 75% of lighting in the B2G is now LED. However, the penetration of smart lighting still less than 10%, but it is increasing rapidly. 

What trends do you see in Indian market when it comes to smart lighting for home users?

Over the years, we have witnessed a considerable shift in the behavior pattern of our target consumers in the Home lighting segment. Given the evolved lifestyle and preferences of consumers, lighting has moved way beyond its functional aspect. Today, lighting has become a key consideration for customers planning their overall home decor.   

Connected LED lighting has made it possible for consumers to personalize their lighting experience at home. It allows users to seamlessly integrate their lighting systems with their Wi-Fi network and control its operation through their smartphones.  

Increasingly, consumers are also becoming conscious of the effect of lighting on their overall health and well-being. Light has a profound impact on regulating the human body’s 24-hour circadian rhythm, playing a critical role in how people wake up and fall asleep and also affects their mood, behavior, alertness and routines. 

Our Philips Hue White Ambiance range can help users get out of bed and start their day feeling refreshed. Using the” wake up” routine, the light brightness increases gradually mimicking the effect of sunrise, helping users wake up naturally.  

Conventional lighting is still all over! Why aren't people going for energy efficient alternatives as yet?

Affordability is a big part of it. As we know conventional bulbs are still cheaper, and there is a large section of our society that cannot afford bulbs which are expensive. So, in India where conventional bulbs will cater to needs of one segment, LED or more efficient bulbs will cater to the second segment and then there is more mature, technically progressive segment, which is open to adopting these newer technologies. All three segments will co-exist, however as the technology matures, the share of the third segment will see a boost. 

For instance, LED is growing at a very high pace; over 100% year-on-year for us. Smart lighting is growing at even faster pace while conventional category is gradually declining. 

Beyond affordability, do you think the lack of right level of awareness is to blame for the sluggish pace of adoption? 

One segment of the society --which is the digitally active and connected segment, is well aware of smart lighting and their propensity to buy is increasing. It is not different from any other smart technology penetration in the country. 

For example, ten years back when smartphone came in, it was a novelty; it didn’t even exist. And then it started catching up and now more than 25% of phones sold are smartphones. Similarly, the penetration wave is going to come to lighting, and it is coming at a faster pace than the phones. It took smartphones ten years to go from 0-25% penetration today, whereas in lighting it may take five to seven years to attain the same kind of penetration.

Is India on track to leverage this connected-lighting opportunity given the benefits it brings to table?

Connected lighting is the next big thing in lighting. Every technology comes across a point of inflection, which happens to be the right time for it. LED has been in talk for many years till that inflection came. LED was used for general lighting purposes for the first time in 1994. However, they did not become popular due to certain limitations at that time. Then there came the inflection following some technology development, cost reduction, and above all, the acceptance - all three put together constitute consumers' side. And when these three come together, we can clearly observe what can happen. We envisage that the same thing would ensue in connected lighting. 

When it comes to LED, it is about energy-efficiency; while connected lighting is a concept that encompasses a gamut of benefits bringing a lot of other areas under its purview. For instance, it would offer better environment for children to study, induce better healing of a patient, enhance productivity, makes the city safer, reduces the real estate cost, etc., all these come bundled with the smart connected lighting towards which we are striding forward. 

While the government’s initiatives have increased awareness about LED lighting, the adoption of connected lighting will depend on the acceptance from consumers.  

Under the street-light programme, over 21 lakh street lights have been upgraded with LED lights across the country! Your take.

The government is doing a big enablement. Two years back, Prime Minister announced ‘Prakash Path’ programme, which is aimed to move from basic lighting to LED lighting. Government is driving this through various government procurement mechanisms. 

With smart city plan underway, where hundreds of smart cities are planned, we’re going to see connected smart lighting for streets being implemented. In some cases, smart connected lighting is being used for architectural lighting—for parks and tunnels. 

We appreciate the Indian Government’s efforts towards LEDification of the country with programmes such as Street Lighting National Programme (SLNP). Besides their energy savings potential, the cost of maintenance for LEDs is much lower and the quality of light is also better. Moreover, LED solutions such as Solar Powered LED street lights can be installed in both semi-urban and rural areas and offer reliable off-grid lighting. Many states in India have started adopting energy efficient streetlights because of the Street Lighting National Programme and the Smart City initiative of the Indian government, but a lot more needs to be done. 

India has more than 5,000 towns and at least 100 large cities and three crore street lights, therefore offering a huge potential for upgrade to energy efficient LED lighting. 

Urban populations are growing rapidly and 60 percent of the world’s population are predicted to be living in cities by 2030 with more than 70 billion light points. Lighting will play a significant role in the development of smart cities of the future as it pervades every area of an individual’s life – home, work, on the road and in public places. 

The way forward in public street lighting will be connected lighting solutions that allow city administrators to control and monitor lighting remotely. During non-peak hours, the lights can be remotely dimmed to save energy.  Similarly, they can be fully illuminated during peak hours or on detecting movement through sensors equipped in street lights.

Some cities in India have taken the lead and already upgraded to connected street lighting. One example is Naya Raipur, the new capital of Chhattisgarh. This city has one of the world’s most modern connected lighting infrastructure that is monitored remotely. The city engineer monitors the infrastructure from his office.

What are Philips Lighting’s top priorities and investment areas moving ahead in 2017?

We have global partnerships with various players who are promoting smart homes. Whether it is Amazon Alexa, Samsung Smart Home technology, or Apple Home Kit; Philips Hue is the only solution that has native connectivity with each of them. 

It is the default lighting system that works with each of these systems. We have built-in APIs and connectors into all of these systems. As the smart home accessories like Apple Home Kit, Google Home or Amazon Alexa grows in India, the smart lighting ecosystem will automatically grow.

Connected and smart lighting is one big priority area, and we are investing in it as newer connected lighting systems are getting launched. We’re building our points of sale so that more and more consumers can go and buy from retail stores such as Chroma, Reliance Digital, online through e-commerce, and over 200 light lounges in India. 

We’re making sure each of them is equipped with Hue experience zones where consumers can go and experience it. Building out these points of presence, where consumers could go, touch and feel the connected or smart lights, is one area where we are making big investment. 

Enhancing consumers’ communications through ATL or digital marketing and continuing to build these partnerships like I mentioned are the three pillars we are working on.

Mastufa is the editor of TechRadar India and is responsible for overseeing a team that covers technology news, analyses and features. He is a tech writer and an online content manager who has worked in New Delhi for PCQuest, BW Businessword and more. He is particularly interested in new tech solutions and devices and how people use them to simplify lives and how organisations gain advantage with these tech. Mastufa is an evangelist of data journalism and new media technologies. He is a Google fan.