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LED lighting has arrived in the mainstream

03 May 2013
LED lighting has arrived in the mainstream

By David Perry, Research and Program Manager, The Climate Group.

Recently I wandered into the electrical aisle of my local hardware store in Melbourne, Australia, and for the first time in memory, the shelves were stuffed with LED bulbs. This is surely the definitive sign that LED lighting has arrived in the mainstream.

As we reported last month, Philips has announced the development of an LED lamp that achieves an efficiency (or, technically speaking, luminous efficacy) of 200 lumens per Watt. I suspect this measure remains mysterious to most and so a little background may be in order to explain just how significant this development is.

Putting aside incandescent lamps, which are all but obsolete, a compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) achieves around 50-75 lumens per watt. The LED bulbs I spotted in my local store achieved a similar or slightly better figure, but last several times longer, switch on instantly, provide superior light quality, and don't contain any mercury. Since LEDs are intrinsically directional, I can avoid wasting power to illuminate my ceiling. The flexible control of intensity and colour offered by LEDs also enables all manner of new innovations, such as WiFi controlled ambient lighting.

Moving beyond consumer level products, it's easy to find commercial LED fixtures that can achieve over 100 lumens per Watt. Philips invention doubles this, getting the same amount of light for half the power. And there is room for yet more improvement, given a theoretical maximum of 300 lumens per Watt, and LEDs under development in labs across the world inching ever closer to this limit.

Indeed this poses a problem for work such as ours which explores the value proposition of LEDs -- by the time trials have been undertaken and reports written, cheaper and more efficient products become available!

The semiconductor processes that enable LEDs are similar to those that have given us ever cheaper and more powerful computers, and more recently, photovoltaic solar panels.

The relentless drive for improved efficiency, process yields, and ultimately lower costs means that the LED bulbs I see in my local hardware store five years from now might be twice as efficient as the ones I can buy now.

This is not the say one should "wait and see" on LED lighting. It has already proven viable in many applications, from domestic to street lighting, and seizing the benefits already available means that improvement will arrive all the more quickly.

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