Flicking the switch on energy conservation in the Middle East

Executives from lighting firm Lutron Electronics on cracking the market

PHOTO: Michael Pessina says that he sees a construction industry that is more conscious of energy conservation. Credit: Supplied

Big Project ME sits down for a chat with Lutron Electronics’ Michael Pessina, co-chief executive officer, and Ramin Mehrgapour, senior vice-president, about how the lighting firm is looking to crack the Middle East’s energy conservation market

As green building codes and energy efficiency continue to dominate the conversation in the construction industry, a number of manufacturers and suppliers are looking to tap into a rapidly growing market, while also striving to educate clients and project partners about the benefits they can bring to the table.

At the forefront of this intriguing new frontier is US firm Lutron Electronics, a 55-year-old company that first broke into the lighting control market when founder Joel Spira invented the first ever solid-state dimmer, which went on to become a viable alternative to the traditional light switch.

After going from strength to strength over the last half century, the company is now looking to strengthen its presence in the Middle East market. Having successfully established itself as one of the leading manufacturers of lighting controls and automated window-covering systems in the world, Lutron is determined to do the same in the GCC, following nearly two decades of operation in the region.

The stated aim is to double regional revenues over the next three years, while also doubling staff at its regional headquarters in Dubai. With its core business segment being hospitality, there are tremendous opportunities available, especially in the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia, all ramping up their hospitality offerings.

Big Project ME sat down with Michael Pessina, co-chief executive officer and company president, and Ramin Mehrganpour, senior vice-president, to discuss how Lutron Electronics will position itself to take advantage of the burgeoning building energy conservation market and how it will work with the construction industry to deliver products that are intuitive, automated and energy efficient.

“What I see in the Middle East, and in other areas around the world, is that the specifying community of mechanical and electrical engineers, lighting engineers and architects are all much more conscious of energy conservation,” says Pessina. “They’ve always had it in their designs, but they’re much more conscious of it now. We were just out with lighting designers the other night, and they told us that they’re specifying virtually all types of LED technology, throughout all their projects.”

“So why do you put LED technology into place? You do it for several basic reasons, but one reason is certainly energy efficiency. They’re very efficacious sources that can approach 75 to 100 lumens per watt, and also they give very good light. So that’s an indication of a lot more consciousness in terms of energy conservation.”

This is where Lutron believes it can take advantage of a changing marketplace. Having developed strong relationships within the construction industry and worked with architects, engineers and contractors, Lutron’s teams have been able to spread the word about how their products and systems match up to the green needs of the industry.

“We’re one of the leading members of green building councils all over the world, whether it’s in Southeast Asia, South America, the USA or even the Middle East, where it’s a very new concept,” says Ramin Mehrganpour. “We’re a leader in this organisation, and we help a lot of owners and developers. Our job is to educate the market, and we’ve been leading these efforts by helping our clients and customers regarding the benefits of energy efficiency.”

“We absolutely do create a dialogue with architects and designers. We act more as a consultant – an advisor – to them. Our job is to tell them what we see and what we think the future will bring. It’s to listen to their issues and what they need to resolve, and then give them something that exceeds their expectations, which in turn means exceeding the expectations of our customers and end users.”

This commitment to customers is expected to result in increased revenue and sales, both executives say, with the stated aim of doubling revenue within the next three years a benchmark rather than just a target.

“We’re doing that by continuously introducing more energy-efficient products in commercial spaces, which is going to help with reducing energy but also continues to develop lower costs of operation,” says Mehrganpour. “One of our main initiatives in the Middle East is going to be introducing into the guest rooms of the hospitality business segment a product known as myRoom. This is one of the leading products in the world, as far as technology and aesthetics are concerned.”

Lutron hopes myRoom will really cement it as a market leader in the region. With the hospitality boom likely to occupy much of the construction industry’s interest, there is an opening in the market which the company hopes to exploit, as Pessina explains.

“We’ve always been very strong in hospitality, but with myRoom, we realised that we could offer several things. To make things simple is very hard to do. So we have a very simple control technology, with buttons that say ‘Good Night’ and ‘Welcome’, but the other thing that we’ve tried to do with this is to make things automated.

“So for the key locks, when you activate the key, the lights come on, the draperies open and the temperature – which can be activated from the front desk by management – adjusts when you enter the room. The goal here is to save energy in the space, but also to do so in an effortless way for the consumer,” he says, pointing out that this ties in perfectly with most hoteliers’ desires for their guests.

“The last thing you want to do is tax guests with anything to do, other than enjoy themselves. We’ve worked with leading brands in the hotel market to develop this technology, seamlessly work the door lock systems and [provide] property management.”

The company works closely with architects and engineers, and both executives agree that educating that segment of the industry about Lutron’s offerings will be crucial to its success in the Middle East. In fact, Mehrganpour points out that a lack of awareness in certain markets about the benefits of energy conservation is perhaps the biggest challenge the company will face as it looks to spread its reach through the region.

“Specifically about Saudi Arabia and the UAE, I do believe that there is a lack of awareness till now of energy efficiency and conservation, perhaps because the cost of energy was so low. Nonetheless, the current dynamic of the world economy, with the cost of oil going down and a lot of subsidies going away, that is going to affect people’s normal lives.

“If subsides go away, it’s obviously going to affect the price of oil and gas and that’s going to impact the day-to-day lives of people, and they’re going to ask, ‘What are the ways in which we can optimise and impact our lives, and perhaps save energy?’”

However, he is quick to add that governments around the world have the responsibility to talk about saving energy, not only from a cost standpoint but because “it’s the right thing to do”.

“I do see that in the UAE, more so than anywhere else in the region. We’re seeing a lot of discussion about being greener. I’m very happy with the steps that are being taken, because they’re focused on building a whole city with zero carbon emissions. It’s very promising for the region, but it’s years away from where the Western world is at, for obvious reasons. But I do believe that they’re making good headway at this point.”

Talking about the future of energy conservation is something that animates Michael Pessina quite considerably. Having outlined the plans for the company and the challenges it faces when it comes to using its products to spread the green message, he’s keen to stress that Lutron won’t be holding back on evolving and enhancing the technology.

“We’ve been very successful with high-end residential, but we see that moving towards more of a mass market. What’s making that happen is smartphones, and the fact that the internet is all around us. We were one of the first companies that worked with Apple for an app for the Apple Watch,” he says.

“The connected home is occurring. Lutron was at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, Nevada, and I spoke on several panels on the connected home. This is a very important direction in terms of promulgating smart devices in the home. We think it’s very important that these devices are reliable and work for the consumer, and we definitely think that it’s got great promise.”

With 10% of global sales invested in research and development, it’s clear that Lutron remains committed to pushing the boundaries of what’s possible. With the Middle East market only set to increase in prominence for the company, it’s just a matter of time before more and more energy conservation products make their way to designers and clients in the region.

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