STORY LIZA LONG | PHOTOS KIMBERLEE MILLER
Tucked away on the third floor of the historic Alaska Building in downtown Boise is a start-up software company that just might change the world—or at least the way we light it. Retrolux occupies a unique space in the commercial building industry. They provide cloud-based software that connects lighting contractors with suppliers to save money and energy in lighting retrofit projects.
“Nobody else is doing exactly what we do,” explained Retrolux founder and CEO Leif Eigethun. “We are trying to change and improve an industry that hasn’t changed in 60 years.”
Commercial and residential lighting has come a long way since Thomas Edison’s first incandescent bulbs. In fact, according to Eigethun, today’s LED (light emitting diode) solutions have the potential to save enormous amounts of energy, while also providing higher quality light-enhancing productivity for workers and students.
Eigethun, a chemical engineer, brings more than 10 years’ experience in clean and renewable energy to Retrolux, which he started in 2012 and made his full-time job in 2015. He has an infectious passion for market-based solutions to climate change. “The reality is that the fight for energy resources is the largest problem facing us as a species,” he said, noting that our current model could basically be described as “find a resource and burn it.” Eigethun believes that solving the energy crisis will enable us to solve other problems, like water and food shortages, with solutions like cheap, clean energy and inexpensive saltwater desalinization.
And it all starts with something as simple as turning on a light switch. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, because LED (light-emitting diode) lights use 75 percent less energy and last 25 times longer than incandescent lighting, they have a significant potential to reduce energy costs for every customer. In fact, at current energy prices, LED lighting could save U.S. consumers $30 billion, conserving as much energy as is produced by 44 large electrical plants each year. LEDs provide better quality lighting for a fraction of the cost.
But Eigethun wants building owners to understand the soft benefits as well. “First, there are the obvious benefits to the environment,” he said. “But there are also productivity gains from cutting-edge lighting technology.”
Some new LED technology provides flicker-free lighting so that people who are negatively impacted by fluorescent lights can perform better at school and work. “Lighting can actually help people learn,” Eigethun said. Another benefit, especially for retailers and supermarkets, is the quality of the light. “Reds look redder; everything looks more vibrant,” Eigethun explained.
Retrolux has officially moved out of its startup phase and is already turning a profit, with customers nationwide. The company is working on native versions of its cloud-based software, which it provides to a variety of lighting industry customers using the popular “freemium” model, where customers can add options to the free basic application.
For Eigethun, Retrolux is a calling. “I want to keep as many fossil fuels in the ground as possible and use market-based solutions to do it,” he said. “Sustainability has been my entire career.”
Sometimes, the best things in life really are free.