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LED Technology: What’s New, What’s Next?

Apr 13, 2009 12:00 PM, Provided by InfoComm International


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Ever since blue LEDs appeared in the 1990s, a cascade of development and system evolution has advanced solid-state lighting to become a viable and prosperous technology foundation. Today, LED technology is used for general lighting in small and large venues; in the automotive market; and in video displays, roadside signs, and digital signage.

According to Kevin Dowling, vice president of innovation for Philips Color Kinetics, the hospitality and retail markets are primary drivers for white light sources, and the broadcast market favors the technology for quality and long-lasting light sources. “Cove and under-shelf lighting is driving LED usage because it’s a natural fit for that application,” he says.

LEDs have come a long way in a short time. Dowling notes that the development of blue LEDs, and the subsequent creation of broadband white light by adding a phosphor coating, occurred in less than 20 years. “The first white LEDs were gray and dismal, and there were technology hurdles in how they were driven and controlled,” he says. “In 2000 to 2004, there was development in improving phosphors and the efficacy of blue LEDs, as well as packages for high-power light output. Since 2004, LEDs continue to improve at a pace that the industry is astonished by. Efficacy, light output, and quality are improving faster than we projected.”

Touted for its energy efficiency and increasing efficacy, “LED technology presents a huge opportunity because energy is becoming a rare commodity,” says Chris Link, business development manager for energy technologies at semiconductor supplier Texas Instruments (TI). Link’s group studies and develops energy technology and the ways in which we can use energy more smartly. “LEDs are low-watt and high-lumens, but have specific requirements as to how current and voltage are delivered. TI specializes in the electronics for fixtures that improve the performance of LEDs.”

Legislation and Standards

In less than two decades, LED technology has become a technology foundation that can do something as simple as cove lighting to as complex as a large-format video display. However, the absence of LED specification standards is an issue plaguing this quickly evolving technology. Link and his colleagues at TI concur that U.S. government legislation will drive the adoption of LED technology—pointing to Europe, where incandescent lighting will be phased out by 2012.

Dowling agrees that standards are sorely needed. “2008 was the year when three major standards for measuring color, lumens, and a testing method for lumen maintenance were established,” he says. “Those standards were also used by the Department of Energy’s Energy Star program in their guidelines issued last fall. The standards are meant to level the playing field.”

That leveling effect is needed since, by Link’s count, the fragmented lighting industry has more than 100 fixture manufacturers in the United States alone. Link has seen an accelerated effort to create energy-efficiency standards such as California’s Energy Efficiency Standards for Residential and Nonresidential Buildings (Title 24, Part 6, of the California Code of Regulations).

“It regulates how you look at the efficiency of LED light. You measure from plug to surface since components do incur losses,” he says. “It is best to know under what conditions it was measured: Was it in a lab or a fixture you can visit? What was the ambient temperature? How long was it on? Does the measurement account for the power supply? It is a challenge since that information is not readily available from all manufacturers.”

This is an excerpt from InfoComm International’s Special Report: LED Technology—What’s New, What’s Next. Visit www.infocomm.org to view the full document.



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