LEDs and the transforming lighting industry

The lighting industry is on the verge of a major transformation. Falling prices and improving quality for light-emitting diode (LED) technology have begun to drive widespread adoption of this technology. Navigant Research forecasts that 63 percent of lamps sold to retrofit projects worldwide will be LED-based by 2021, up from only 5 percent in 2013, as seen in the pie charts below.

The rationale for this switch is well known. LEDs already outperform incandescent and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) in regards to lifespan, energy efficiency, heat emissions, temperature sensitivity, color quality and dimming capacity. Linear fluorescent lamps still compare somewhat favorably to their LED equivalents, but new LED products have begun to tip the scales for this mainstay of office lighting as well.

More important, technology developments continue to improve the energy efficiency and quality of LEDs at the same time that costs continue to fall. This will encourage consumers to choose LEDs for an ever-increasing range of applications, driving the adoption rate of this lamp type ever higher.

Beyond a simple swap in lamp type, the rise in LEDs is expected to affect every aspect of the lighting industry. The primary focus of the industry today is to drive down the price of LED lighting. Comparatively high prices are still the largest barrier to LED adoption, and companies are forced to compete harshly over achieving the lowest price.

Once LED prices reach a tipping point in the coming years, however, manufacturers will be freed to focus on the broader range of capabilities that LED lighting promises. Many of these capabilities are already being explored. Going forward, consumers can expect to witness an industry transformation in the shape and functionality of light fixtures, the process of lighting design and installation, and the features and functions of lighting controls.

Shape and Functionality of Fixtures

The shape of incandescent and fluorescent light bulbs is severely limited by the requirements of filaments and glass tubes. LEDs, on the other hand, are essentially point sources of light that can be made nearly flat. This frees the designers of LED luminaires to create much more creative shapes than existing lighting can provide.

Already, companies like Cooledge are producing flexible LED light sheets, with thin LEDs mounted on a flexible plastic substrate. These sheets can be directly applied to wood, glass, or metals, allowing luminaire manufacturers to create lights in nearly any shape imaginable.

Organic LEDs, or OLEDs, hold the promise of even thinner and more flexible design. Companies like GE, Philips, and OSRAM are starting to come out with commercial products that, like an LED light sheet, can be creatively integrated into luminaires of almost any shape. As the performance of light sheets and OLEDs continues to improve and costs continue to fall, the upsurge of creative luminaire designs will be nothing short of breathtaking.

Lighting Design

Much of today’s lighting design is predicated on the need to periodically replace burned out light bulbs. The already long and still increasing lifespan of LED lighting may largely eliminate that need, with wide ranging implications for how lighting is designed and installed in our built environments. If the life expectancy of the light source becomes just as long as the life expectancy of ceiling tiles or dividers or other building materials, then it is not impossible to think that lights may become far more integrated into building design than is currently possible.

Advanced Controls

As a semiconductor-based technology, LEDs naturally lend themselves to digital control. Many companies have begun to integrate wireless controls, dimming capability, and color tuning directly into LED luminaires, or even directly onto the driver that powers individual LED lamps. The cost premium for including these controls is expected to fall dramatically in the coming years.

Similar to the way low mercury fluorescent lamps became ubiquitous once the cost premium became small enough, it is likely that controls will come built-in to LED lights almost by default once the additional cost becomes so low that excluding them makes little sense. The wide availability of controllable lighting will then lead to a rapid expansion in the use and features of lighting control systems.

Many examples of this expansion already exist. Philips Hue LED bulbs connect to home wireless networks and allow users to control their lights through their smartphones or computers using a range of creative features. The lights can match a color selected from a picture or colors can change in response to programmed events like weather warnings or scores from a user’s favorite sports team.

If the transformation of the lighting industry is an important issue to you, then be sure to sign up for and attend Navigant Research’s upcoming free webinar: LEDs and the Transformation of the Lighting Industry, which will take place October 8, 2013 at 2:00 p.m. EDT.

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