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What are we waiting for? Bring on more LEDs!

Efficient solid-state lighting (SSL) installations conserve national energy supplies and save real money for the consumer. Future applications have the potential to prevent some very serious diseases, and one light-emitting diode (LED) application is even aimed directly at saving lives.

And like all new technology, they bring the potential for new jobs and industry growth.

So it’s no wonder that SSL has been the focus of recent high-level studies released by the European Commission and by the United States’ National Academies (NA).

In line with its Digital Agenda for Europe, the EC’s “Lighting the Cities ” aims to help more European cities transition to LED-based lighting. With lighting accounting for approximately 50% of electricity consumption in cities, decreasing that about by the EU’s target of 20% by the year 2020 will have a major impact on the region’s carbon footprint, noted Commission Vice-President Neelie Kroes.

Several European cities have already deployed SSL, with energy savings of up to 50-60%, the report notes.

Benefits include:
  • A greater sense of safety along with the better illumination -- more visibility, less glare -- provided by LED-based street lighting
  • An atmospheric feeling and more space for people in a public square, created by “floating” luminaires mounted on minimalist lamp posts
  • High light levels at sporting installations, without the glare and light spillage of conventional lighting
  • Lighting designs that compliment culturally important buildings, bridges and other structures
  • Further energy conservation through smart lighting that dims when no vehicles or pedestrians are detected.

In the USA, the NA report, “Assessment of Advanced Solid State Lighting” noted some challenges along with the wide-ranging potential benefits of SSL.

Consumers have been slow to accept LEDs for interior lighting, and the report urges the Department of Energy (DOE) to maintain and support even more R&D investment to increase production, improve quality and encourage acceptance.

On the plus side, the report noted, outlay costs for LED lamps for home or business lighting are now comparable to both incandescent and compact fluorescent, and are further offset by LED longevity.

Sufficient brightness is one consumer issue being addressed in LED development, and color is another. Organic LEDs (OLEDs) have an advantage over LEDs in being color-tunable for increased aesthetic satisfaction, and can be made in flexible sizes and materials that allow for new types of luminaire designs and installations.

Regarding health benefits, SSL offers potential to help correct light-related disruptions in circadian rhythms, said Mark Rea, director of the Lighting Research Center at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute  and author of the recently released SPIE Press book Value Metrics for Better Lighting. These disruptions affect sleep, digestion and mental performance in the short term, and promote diabetes, obesity, breast cancer and cardiovascular problems in the long term, Rea said.

Modern life involves a substantial amount of day time when people are shielded from natural light and conversely significant night time when surrounded by artificial light, all of which disrupts the body’s circadian rhythms, he explained. With tunable SSL comes the ability to control the light-dark cycle. LRC is working on incorporating SSL into sustainable building practices to aid shift workers such as nurses or pilots.

From the industry perspective, the current market for LEDs includes not only general lighting but backlighting of liquid crystal display TVs, laptop computers and handheld devices, and multiple uses in automobiles and airplanes. The NA estimated approximately $10 billion globally in 2010 for LED revenues for all such applications, with 72% of the market share in Japan, Korea, Taiwan and China.

While it is clear that the LED industry faces a strong future, the speed of technology development is among several factors that make it difficult to predict market futures, SPIE Industry and Market Strategist Stephen Anderson said in an article called "The LED Revolution" in the July 2013 issue of SPIE Professional magazine. He cited one estimate of the 2013 LED lighting market at $17 billion with a compound annual growth rate of 12% projected from 2011 to 2017, and another that projects the market will grow 54% from 2012 and reach $25.4 billion in 2013.

And saving lives? In South Korea, which has one of the highest suicide rates in the world, a sensor- and LED-based system called “Bridge of Life” has been installed on Seoul’s Mapo Bridge, from which a large number of people have jumped to their deaths. When someone approaches a sensor, the lights play messages intended to reassure and to deter the potential jumper.

We’re looking forward to hearing presentations on the latest in SSL technology in several conferences at SPIE Optics + Photonics next month.

Bring on the LEDs!

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