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LED Lighting

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The opening ceremonies at the Beijing Olympics will always conjure up stunning imagery of 2,008 volunteers drumming in perfect harmony, an event that vividly captured the imagination of viewers worldwide. But if anything, this Olympic event was a coming out party for light-emitting diode, or LED lighting technology.

The opening ceremonies featured a giant 44,000 LED “scroll” that replayed China’s 5,000-year civilization on a canvas 482 feet (147 m) long and 72 feet (22 m) wide. Tiny LED beads were also embedded in the costumes of performers, who fanned out to create a starry sky with dazzling images.

Philips offers the innovative hue Personal Wireless Lighting starter pack ($200) — three LED lightbulbs that can be wirelessly controlled by your Android smartphone, iPhone or iPad and features energy savings plus the ability to glow in 16 million colors.

There’s no question that LED lighting has quickly achieved cult status in the staid $17 billion U.S. lightbulb replacement industry. The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 contained a little-noticed act. Starting in 2012, light bulbs are to be phased in that feature roughly 25% greater efficiency. This move effectively bans most current incandescent light bulbs, with few exceptions.

That this legal maneuver went unnoticed until much later was evidenced by the greater publicity Australia’s February 2007 decision received to completely phase out incandescent bulbs by 2010.

Propelled by such high-profile actions and amplified by rapidly evolving technology, the LED lighting market is poised for spectacular growth:

  • Market size/forecast – In 2015, the global LED lighting market is predicted reach $26 billion, while the overall lighting market grows to $82 billion, reports Taiwan-based firm TrendForce. In the U.S., LED sales reached $891 million in 2012, and is forecast to reach $2.8 billion in 2017, representing an average annual growth rate of 25%.
  • Market segments – The main appeal of LED technology is energy efficiency. In traffic signal lights, a high-visibilty market for LEDs (see chart below), a red traffic signal light containing 196 LEDs draws just 10 watts compared to a 150-watt incandescent light bulb. As they become better and cheaper, LEDs are quickly replacing the U.S.’ 4 million traffic lights plus innumerable neon lights. The Los Angeles Police Department chose the Pelican 7060 LED ($132) as the standard flashlight for all its officers. Meanwhile, virtually all automobile manufacturers have largely switched to LED lights.

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  • Special effects – Hotels, like Las Vegas’ Bellagio, use LEDs from Italy’s Space Cannon to provide exterior color accents, before the company was liquidated. In 2007, Royal Philips Electronics acquired Color Kinetics for $688 million. Color Kinetics is a decade-old Boston company that, among others, designed Toronto’s CN Tower’s 1,300 color-changing LEDs.

In June 2014, GE announced the GE Link LED lightbulb, which is not only seriously cheap at $15 but can also be controlled by a Quirky Wink app, making it the most cost-competitive smart LED lightbulb.

  • Future technologies – At a Düsseldorf retailer, Philips is testing a lighting system with built-in iBeacon technology from Apple that relays location and product information to smartphones. Using a companion app, shoppers can see a store map, including their exact location.

Researchers are taking LED to the next level, working on designs that could positively affect moods and even health. That certainly would be enlightening.

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