LED Lights, Lighting of the Future|
Article-January 2013 By Larson Electronics.com
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international emphasis on energy efficiency and environmental awareness now
reaching all time highs, alternatives to traditional forms of wasteful energy
reliant technologies have begun to rise to the forefront of today’s
marketplaces. Although almost every type of device that relies on electrical
power for operation is a candidate for improvements in energy efficiency, a
select few have gained the lion’s share of attention due in large part to how
deeply they pervade societies around the globe and how reliant we have become
upon them. Of these technologies, lighting represents one of the largest and
most prominent areas where even minute changes can have a noticeable impact even
at the basic residential level.
Lighting has become closely intertwined with energy
efficiency and environmental awareness over the last decade. Prior to that,
although most people were well aware “turning off the lights” saved energy, the
relatively small power requirements of a single incandescent light bulb made it
easy to dismiss lighting as an area where few savings were to be found. Once a
closer look was taken at how significantly lighting affected overall energy
consumption in the home as well as the workplace however, it didn’t take long
for people to realize just what an energy hog incandescent lighting really was.
Looked at on a national and even global level, the portion of energy consumed by
lighting alone becomes even more alarming. In the average US home for instance,
lighting accounts for up to 20% of the electrical energy used. On a national
level, the amount of energy used by lighting represents up to 25% of the total
electricity generated in the U.S. Clearly, there is a great deal of room for
In the quest for energy efficient light sources a
variety of approaches have been undertaken with varying degrees of success.
Initially, researchers and developers for various industry giants such as
General Electric and Philips sought to improve upon existing technologies such
as incandescent and fluorescent luminaries. This led to some interesting
developments with varying degrees of effectiveness, most notable of which is the
compact fluorescent bulb. The compact fluorescent light, or CFL for short, is at
the basic level a small fluorescent lamp that has been twisted into a coil shape
to make it more easily adapted to traditional light fixtures. Early versions of
the CFL were plagued with issues, the most important of which were the need for
a ballast, poor light color, slow warm up times, and a high mercury content.
All of these problems served to slow acceptance of
the CFL and despite most of the problems having been addressed, the CFL still
remains a less than robust design that has met with a tepid reception in the
marketplace. CFLs also have the added disadvantage of poor versatility, being
impractical for applications requiring high intensity and tightly focused output
as found in spotlighting and similar applications. At their current level of
development, CFLs have proven more efficient and longer lived than the
incandescent bulb, but their inability to provide instant full power output,
sensitivity to frequent on/off cycling and cold weather, limited versatility,
and continued reliance on toxic mercury has dampened consumer enthusiasm.
The newest and most well regarded entrance into the
lighting markets has been the LED. LEDs represent an entirely new way of
producing illumination that bears very little resemblance to traditional forms
of lighting. With LEDs, nothing is burned, there are no gases and no glass, and
the energy to light conversion rate is much much higher. The energy to light
conversion rate is so much higher in fact, that LEDs now produce on the order of
80% more light per watt than the incandescent bulb. LEDs require no warm up
period, reach full power instantly, can be cycled on and off with no change in
performance or longevity, their output is natively intense and well focused, and
they are unaffected by cold temperatures. Since LEDs produce light by passing
electrical energy through semi-conducting materials, there is no wire filament
to break or burn out and there is no need to utilize gases or toxic materials as
output and longevity enhancing agents.
Early LEDs did tend to produce a bluish colored light
that was often considered too “cold” for use in general illumination
applications, but developers have now begun adding phosphor coatings and
utilizing new semi conducting materials to alter the color temperature of LEDs
to help them produce light output that is “warmer” and similar to the slightly
yellow light from incandescent bulbs the public has grown accustomed to.
All of this has led to the LED becoming considered
the defacto alternative lighting technology of the future, and already they are
taking up a fast growing portion of the lighting markets once dominated by
incandescent and fluorescent lamps. They can be tailored to almost any
application requiring visible light, can be configured to produce infrared,
ultraviolet, and colored light, and are so small that in many cases the overall
size of a typical light fixture can be greatly reduced as well as redesigned to
provide a better aesthetic appearance and less obtrusive installation options.
The biggest drawback to LEDs is currently their higher costs. An LED bulb
designed to replace an incandescent of similar light output typically costs
about 8 to 10 times as much. This higher cost has served to slow acceptance of
the LED, but as cost mitigating factors become more well known, this reluctance
is beginning to dissipate.
Although the LED costs more, its operational costs are
far lower and it lasts oftentimes 50 times longer than a typical incandescent.
This means that over the long term, a single LED replacement bulb will have an
overall cost much lower than the incandescent as it will use far less energy and
require fewer replacements.
When considering an upgrade in lighting in order to
improve energy efficiency and lower costs, LEDs offer the greatest bang for the
buck. Regardless of whether the application is commercial, industrial,
residential, or recreational, LEDs offer the ability to provide better light
quality with less energy use and lower overall operating costs.