Mustafah Abulaziz/Aurora Select

Lutron is synonymous with lighting controls, and the wizard behind the company's curtain is the unassuming Joel Spira. Tasked with designing a trigger for a nuclear bomb while in the Navy after World War II, Spira assembled a switch relay only to discover that it shattered and did not work. A colleague then showed him a silicon-controlled rectifier (SCR), an electronic device no bigger than one's fingertip. Discovering that the SCR could harness a lot of energy, he wondered if it could be used to control an incandescent lamp—and the rest, as they say, is history. He created the first electronic solid-state dimmer in 1959 and established Lutron Electronics in 1961 to sell his invention. Credited with 205 patents, Spira's dimmer has few limits when it comes to lamp source, or project type and size. As lighting becomes more digital, controls offer even greater possibilities for energy savings—all with the simple touch of a button.

What makes a great piece of lighting equipment?
Anything that enhances the visual environment and saves energy.

What are some significant changes you've seen in the lighting industry?
Improvements to light sources and fixtures, the large-scale influence of the lighting designer, and the development of electronic controls and software.

Your thoughts on LEDs?
They are establishing their space in the lighting environment, but what that will be has yet to be determined. Incandescent, halogen, and fluorescent are not dead. With controls they can equal and exceed the energy savings of the newer devices—and with lower cost and better color.

What are some of the misconceptions about lighting controls?
The size of different systems and how they can be programmed. Additionally, you don't have to put an entire system in all at once; you can stage it over time.

Are lighting controls' contribution to energy savings fully recognized?
No. Various credits, such as LEED, are given for sustainable solutions and there are a number of government subsidies for solid-state lighting initiatives, but energy savings via dimming is not recognized. Dimming works well and saves energy.

What is the next great advance in lighting controls?
Coordinating all light sources in a room and in a building with wired and wireless networks, which can then sync with the utility grid. Lighting controls offer a universal connection point for economic, societal, and environmental issues.