By Tim Whitaker
The global lighting industry is going through a period of tremendous upheaval, due to the emergence in recent years of high-quality lighting products based on light-emitting diode (LED) technology. European lighting companies are at the forefront of this transition, which has already resulted in the penetration of LED lighting into many different application areas. LightingEurope, a group formed recently from more than 30 European lighting manufacturers and national lighting associations, says it intends to "meet the challenges and opportunities created by the current unprecedented change in lighting technology and production caused by the introduction of LED lighting."
The LED has already had a significant impact on a number of industrial sectors. For example, the vast majority of screens in new TVs, laptops and other mobile devices are backlit using LEDs. Many road vehicles use LEDs for their brake lights, indicators and daytime running lights, while LED signs and traffic signals are a common feature of everyday life.
But the biggest impact of LEDs is likely to be in the lighting sector. Already, LED lamps can be found in hardware stores throughout Europe, and the home-furnishings giant Ikea recently announced plans to sell only LED-based lighting products by 2016. The use of LED lamps has been boosted to some extent by the European directives that have outlawed the production of certain traditional light-bulb types with low energy efficiency. However, many other lamp types remain on the market, and LED lamps face stiff competition in some quarters, for example from directional halogen spotlights.
Energy efficiency is one of the key benefits of LED technology, although it would be wrong to claim that LEDs always offer the most efficient solution for a particular product type or application. Higher energy efficiency brings the dual (and related) benefits of reduced carbon emissions, and reduced cost of consumed electrical power. Often, an LED-based product or lighting scheme is a more expensive option, but this higher initial cost is offset by electricity-bill savings. A number of financing schemes offer lighting products without any upfront payment; instead, the customer agrees to repay a certain amount each month based on the estimated savings that will be made in electricity consumption. Often these schemes can be cash-flow positive for the customer from the outset.
The long lifetime of LED-based lighting products, based on the robust nature of the technology, can provide another financial benefit. A lower number of breakages and failures can result in a significant reduction in the cost of maintenance. In some applications this can even outweigh the cost benefits of reduced energy consumption. Consider the cost of sending a maintenance crew with a crane to change the lamp in a streetlight, or in a fixture hanging from a high ceiling in a warehouse.
Maintenance and replacement are a concern as the commercial lighting sector adopts LEDs. Traditionally, lighting manufacturers would design their fixtures to accommodate a certain lamp type, and the customer would then be able to easily replace the lamp in case of a breakage or failure. However, in many LED fixtures it is not possible to replace the LED light source. This is very wasteful when the LED source reaches its end of life, and also prevents the customer from upgrading the fixture to include the latest generation of LED technology.
One solution is to develop a series of specifications for interchangeable LED light sources. A fixture designed according to such a specification is able to use compatible components from a range of different suppliers. Such specifications are currently in development by the Zhaga Consortium, a global association of companies that includes many European lighting manufacturers.
Zhaga is one example of an effort to create industrial standards for LED lighting that will help to further accelerate market growth. Meanwhile, the industry continues to promote the advantages of LEDs in terms of energy efficiency, environmental impact and consumer well-being. The transformation to LED lighting is well underway, and shows no signs of stopping.