The Future of LEDs Is Brighter Than Ever

Suzanne Foster Porter

Last month, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced that an American and two Japanese scientists won the 2014 Nobel Prize for Physics for inventing the blue LED, a critical technology that ultimately paved the way to create today’s white LED bulbs for vehicle headlights, hand held flashlights, general street lights, and the new-to-market LED general service bulbs like the kind we promote for many of our utility partners. My academic degree is in physics, so hearing the news of this award was particularly exciting given the technology’s energy savings results for our clients.

Red and green LEDs have been around for decades, found in products such as indicators, illuminated exit signs, holiday lights, and traffic lights. But the blue LED emitter source developed by Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura enabled the birth of the true white LED lights that have the potential to closely mimic the light from incandescent Edison bulbs. Although CFLs certainly best the Edison bulbs―with long life, bright light and an affordable price point―they didn’t make a good first impression and unfortunately, many consumers still think of them as dim, funny looking bulbs full of toxic mercury (none of it true, by the way). Now, these new white LEDs have made a grand entrance to the lighting party – starting with reflectors and now all-purpose A-line bulbs―and we have countless anecdotes from our lighting program teams in the field that reveal consumers are excited to try this new technology.

LEDs certainly have a lot going for them: they give more light for less energy (the most efficient LED emits 300 lumens per watt compared to just 16 lumens per watt for incandescent bulbs and 70 lumens per watt for CFLs) and can last up to 100,000 hours (compared to an incandescent bulb that burns for only 1,000 hours). They also contain no mercury. These benefits are part of the reason Ecova’s lighting programs are evolving quickly to include LEDs. Some of our programs have added LEDs to the mix slowly and then increased the shelf space devoted to LEDs each year. And some programs – particularly those that have already seen mature CFL adoption by their customers – have quickly moved to incenting only LED bulbs in their programs.

All of us at Ecova shared a sense of excitement about the announcement of this year’s Nobel Prize for Physics. This technology will profoundly alter lighting in the century to come. The 20th Century may have been Edison’s, but the 21st Century certainly seems to belong to this tenacious Japanese trio.

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