The Roundtable - Solid-State Lighting and the Marketplace

Tue, 09/07/2010 - 6:30am
Alix Paultre

This month's question involves technology acceptance in the marketplace for solid-state lighting. The question, “What barriers still exist between solid-state lighting and mainstream acceptance in the marketplace?” was answered by people from ERG Lighting, Global Lighting Technologies, and OSRAM Opto Semiconductors.


Michael Kretzmer

Michael Kretzmer
Mgr New Business Development
ERG Lighting

The biggest impedance to the majority of consumers making the move to LED lighting is undoubtedly price; however, the lack of standardization and the suspect quality of some early entrants are close behind. Adding fuel to the fire is the fact that LEDs are electronic and traditional lighting is electrical, which creates a fairly large educational gap between those designing the luminaires and those purchasing them. It’s important to consider that the technology behind lighting has remained more or less unchanged for more than 100 years, and LEDs present a revolution in how we view the world. As such, the amount of education necessary to create a comfort level for consumers and installers is on a magnitude with the adoption of the metric system in the US. Most people accept that it’s “the right thing to do” but bridging the gap remains elusive.

Although the price of most LED luminaires has dropped dramatically in the past year, the majority of LED-based products are still substantially more expensive than their traditional incandescent and fluorescent counterparts. Much has been published on the increasingly shorter ROI for solid state lighting products, but the average consumer – more so than the commercial user -- may still balk at a higher upfront cost for promised savings down the line. This is especially true considering the fragmented state of the retrofit market and the sub-par performance of some of the first LED offerings that didn’t deliver the lifetime or energy efficiency that they were purported to provide.

Consumers want the security of knowing that a more capital-intensive investment today will provide all of the promised benefits down the line. Likewise, as many LED installations require minor changes to electrical infrastructure, and have life expectancies greater than 50,000 hours (that’s more than 11 years of 12 hour-per-day operation), potential buyers are wary of making these changes without the guarantee of performance. Even if the ROI is a couple of years, 11 years is a long time to commit to a specific lighting design in your home! Conversely, what may seem a hindrance to residential customers will probably be very attractive to commercial and industrial consumers, who want to change their light sources and/or lighting design as infrequently as possible. I suspect that solid state lighting will gain mainstream acceptance in these sectors first. 

Brett Shriver

Brett Shriver
Director of Sales
Global Lighting Technologies

At the consumer end, I think people are looking to simply unscrew their current bulb and insert a new one. Because of this, many suppliers are trying to develop screw-in replacements using LEDs. Although this is the biggest opportunity for quick penetration into the market, it is not necessarily the best use of the technology.

On the commercial side, there are many companies trying to simply replace the existing product by plugging LEDs into the same packages and form/function rather than starting from scratch and developing product to take advantage of the full potential of LEDs. We are just beginning to see LEDs enter the market of general lighting and, once we find acceptance of products that are designed specifically to use the new technology rather than trying to fit it into a box designed by the existing technology, I believe you will see LEDs penetrate the market quickly.

As far as cost goes, we are finding that many commercial applications are more acceptable to the higher upfront costs of LED products in order to offset future power and maintenance costs than are consumer applications.

As to when LEDs will completely take over the role as the primary lighting source in all general applications, I feel that without governmental mandates or initiatives – such as banning all incandescent-type products similar to the FCC’s muscling out analog TV in favor of digital -- it will happen more slowly and could take 10-20 years to reach full replacement.

 Markus Klein

Markus Klein
Senior Director
OSRAM Opto Semiconductors

LEDs have already proven themselves as serious light source for solid-state lighting: they have demonstrated considerable increases in brightness and efficiency, they deliver more potential energy savings than traditional light sources, and they contain no lead or mercury. They are certainly more than just “nice to have” and provide ample evidence that cost efficiency and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive. Development work is ongoing and light emitting diodes are already penetrating the general illumination sector.

So, what barriers to mainstream acceptance remain? At the consumer level, many people are confused by the competing claims of different manufacturers and unclear comparisons and calculations. I believe this is the biggest impediment, along with concern about the upfront cost. The key to dispelling these doubts is education, such as the DOE’s Consumer Awareness Program.

Professional general lighting applications have different areas of concern than private consumers.
Professional applications focus more on the total cost of ownership – they require long lifetimes, less maintenance, directed light without any light pollution, and energy savings due to LED technology and/or intelligent light management. We currently see that the customer landscape is extremely splintered. It is enormously heterogeneous in terms of company size and depth of integration. Every type is represented, including a few major customers, a large number of medium size companies, the smallest firms and individual lighting designers. The variations in the depths of the value added chains are also considerable. Here, too, education is a major issue – we support our customers with our profound application know how and expertise in developing new solutions. Reference products and projects are proof for the possibilities of the new technology.

LED lighting is a rather new technology that is not yet so well known in all its performance parameters, technical benefits, and possibilities. LED lighting is, in many cases, still a subject that is dealt with at the expert level. Increasing standardization, however, will spur consolidation and make LED lighting a subject that is easy for luminaire manufacturers and end consumers to master.


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