Friday, February 19, 2010

From lights to look at ... to lights to see with!

There's no doubt that LED technology is rapidly changing the lighting industry and how we interact with light. It is a truly disruptive technology, probably synonymous with going from computer programming in the punch card era to using a microchip, or going from a rotary phone to a touch screen iPhone.

In the future, we won't purchase a light fixture with a separate screw-in Edison light bulb. All of a sudden, we will be buying a complete lighting system with the LEDs already inside.

LED traffic and street lights, a perfect application for both color and white light sources, have led the way with more than 1 in 3 traffic signals in North America now converted to LED.

The potential for LEDs continues to grow in further practical uses throughout urban areas, manufacturing facilities, warehouses or any place where long-duty cycles, harsh conditions and energy efficiency are mandated.

While the cost-effectiveness of LEDs varies by an application's environment and geographic location, the price is coming down significantly on many high-performance LED products.

For example, down-lighting is one application in which LEDs are very much in practice as it benefits from the directional nature of the light.

Similarly, other LED characteristics, such as their small size, lack of infrared heat and long lifespan, make them a sensible choice.

From their beginnings as indicator 'lights to look at', they have now also become 'lights to see with', so LED technology is finding its place in security floodlighting, parking area and pathway lighting, in many instances equipped with smart features like motion or occupancy sensors for added energy-efficiency and safety.

A key attraction of LED technology continues to be its potential to save massive amounts of energy. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, widespread use of LEDs could save about 348 TWh each year.

This represents the following potential savings:

- The equivalent annual electrical output of about 44 large electric coal-fired power plants (1000 megawatts each)
More than $30 billion in savings at today's electricity prices.

- A 33% decrease in total electricity consumption for lighting, compared to a scenario with no LEDs. The amount of electricity saved would be greater than the total amount of energy used to light all U.S. homes today.

- LEDs are currently as efficient as compact fluorescents, but even at their best, CFLs reach only about 75 lumens per watt.

In comparison to this, LEDs already emit more than 100 lumens per watt and, with annual significant improvement in the amount of light emitted from a single LED, there are instances of 200 l/w being reported. And not only are we seeing improvement in the efficiency with which the products can produce light, we're also seeing improvement in the quality of light emitted.

For now, LED technology continues to mature in the 'early-adopter' commercial and industrial markets while in the meantime customer education is a big issue. Most customers think a watt is the measure of the amount of light that is given off by the light bulb, when it's the lumens per watt that count. That is their key to understanding efficiency.

Virtually every dollar being spent by the U.S. Department of Energy is currently going towards LED technology and most fixture manufacturers are on the LED bandwagon. Now it's just a matter of educating the marketplace.