A 90 percent power saving thanks to smart lighting
Patrik Deuss has developed intelligent luminaires that work very efficiently. What started with a Bachelor’s thesis at the ZHAW has transformed into a start-up with 42 employees five years later. By 2030, LEDCity is aiming to reduce the amount of power used for lighting by an amount equivalent to that produced by a nuclear power plant.
Where does the greatest potential for stopping climate change lie? This was the question running through the mind of Patrik Deuss when he was looking for a topic for his Bachelor’s thesis. Heating systems? The mobility sector? Lighting fittings? “I noticed that the lights in the corridors In the ZHAW buildings were always on,” says the energy and environmental engineer. “The caretaker explained to me that lighting control systems are a complex matter.” Conventional systems have a single motion detector in each room and can only illuminate the space surrounding them either completely or not at all. “There must be a more needs-oriented way of doing things,” thought Deuss. And in that moment he had found the topic for his Bachelor's thesis.
The ZHAW student began to develop a prototype of an intelligent luminaire. His idea was to move from a centralised to a decentralised system: Each luminaire should have its own “brain.” The sensor in the LED tube not only detects movements, but also the temperature, humidity and incident light from natural sources such as windows. All of the hardware, which is otherwise distributed around the room, is integrated within each individual luminaire – the sensor, the illuminant and the cable. “Together, the luminaires work like a swarm,” explains Deuss. “Exactly as much light is produced as is needed at any one time.” Deuss states that this can save 90 percent of the power used for lighting.
Patrik Deuss quickly realised that his idea was attracting attention from potential customers. As he was reaching his limits in terms of the software’s development, he called in Florian Gärtner, an electrical engineer and friend from his time as a competitive downhill racer. The two of them founded the startup LEDCity and benefited from the ZHAW Startup Challenge. For six months, they were able to make use of office space free of charge, were offered support by a coach and received training on topics such as patent applications, business plans and searching for investors.
The young founders started to have their luminaires mass-produced in Asia. “Most of the electronic components on the LED market are produced in China,” explains Patrick Deuss. “Our material eventually arrives in Switzerland via train.”
“By 2030, we want to convert 12 million luminaires and thus save an amount of electricity equivalent to that produced by a nuclear power plant.”
In 2017, Deuss and Gärtner sold their first luminaire and the company has been growing ever since. LEDCity currently has 42 employees and new branches have recently been opened in Germany and Spain. The startup specialises in commercial buildings and has a customer portfolio that includes Zurich Airport, the ZHAW and the Dolder Grand. Due to the tense situation on the energy market at the moment, the level of interest in smart luminaires has risen sharply once more, says Deuss. In commercial buildings, lighting is responsible for up to 30 percent of electricity costs.
Patrik Deuss and Florian Gärtner have big goals: By 2030, they want to covert 12 million luminaires and thus save an amount of electricity equivalent to that produced by a nuclear power plant. While this might sound unrealistic at first, Deuss backs up this objective with maths: In 2022 alone, LEDCity will convert 55,000 luminaires. To date, Deuss explains, the startup’s production has grown on average by more than 100 percent each year – and the target would be achieved with annual growth of just 77 percent up to the end of the decade.
“It is always easier and more cost-effective to save power than it is to produce it sustainably.”
LEDCity's vision goes even further: By 2040, the aim is for efficient LED lighting systems to reduce global power consumption in the lighting sector by 80 percent. “Of course, we can't do it alone,” says Deuss. “However, we are kick-starting the market.” For example, the developers are working on a small sensor that incorporates all the technology found in the LEDCity tubes, meaning that other manufacturers will be able to integrate this sensor in their own luminaires. Patrik Deuss anticipates that a great deal will happen in the energy sector over the next few years. “It is always easier and more cost-efficient to save power than it is to produce it sustainably,” emphasises the startup founder.
At 30 years of age, Patrik Deuss is CEO of a fast-growing SME. Is the great responsibility he bears a burden? “I find my work to be very meaningful,” he answers. Deuss explains that he is part of a very good team who support each another. The founder adds that they are constantly on the lookout for new employees and attach great importance to finding the right people. What’s more, he believes that his experience as an elite sportsman prepared him well for this task. “In both sport and business, you have to break goals down into milestones. You need discipline, training and staying power,” says Deuss. “I think that as a top athlete you have a different perception of pain.”