Imagine walking into a restaurant or building where an entire wall brings light to a room using a series of panels dim enough to stare at comfortably and sophisticated enough to change colors, display images or even play videos.

LED-lightbulbsImagine being able to brighten, expose or dim light according to our natural circadian rhythms to prevent sickness and enhance our moods. Imagine being able to beautifully light a space with just a third of the number of bulbs normally used and a third of the typical amount of energy.

Some of this lighting technology and design is showing up in buildings but the foodservice industry is only just warming to the use of this new technology, explained Richard Young, director of education for the Food Service Technology Center (FSTC) in San Ramon, Calif., during the testing organization's 25th anniversary conference and open house. The fact of the matter is that "most lighting really sucks," Young said, quoting Clifton Lemon, a veteran designer and developer of energy-efficient solutions, who now works for Soraa, a solid-state lighting manufacturer.

Previous iterations of energy-efficient lighting took the form of compact fluorescents and older-model LED bulbs, which left a lot to be desired. These options, which could not dim efficiently and produced harsh, unflattering light that more closely resembled florescent than ambient lighting, were often shunned in favor of better quality lighting rather than energy efficiency. Not to mention that these bulbs were expensive.

But the foodservice industry seems to be entering a new age when it comes to energy-efficient lighting, Young said. In fact, he points out, modern LED and energy-efficient lighting systems now function as "disruptive lighting" that is changing the way the industry illuminates interior spaces.

Wrote Lemon, "Since manmade lighting is undergoing its next disruptive upheaval with the adoption of LEDs, we're really beginning to look at light in a completely different way: we have a unique opportunity to reengage with it. So reimagining lighting naturally leads to reimagining architecture, yet again." He added, "If you examine lighting only, or initially, from a standpoint of energy efficiency, you realize that the impact here is on a very large scale, for instance, LEDs (in optimized systems) can eliminate 80 percent of lighting energy use across a wide range of technologies. Since lighting is perhaps the single biggest use of electricity in nonindustrial buildings the potential scale effects of this level of efficiency are huge."

On top of that, through lighting design and the use of better quality, more efficient bulbs, foodservice operators can begin to manipulate indoor atmospheres to improve health and wellness. More on that in a bit, but first, let's review the bulbs and technologies available for use in foodservice environments.