The U.S. Department of Energy has just named the winners of its eighth annual Lighting for Tomorrow competition, and the focus was squarely on new high efficiency LED designs that could help cut lighting energy use by 25 percent. LEDs (light emitting diodes) also have a big advantage over conventional bulbs when it comes to longevity, which could add even more on top of the $120 billion in energy savings that DOE expects from LEDs over the next 20 years – if enough building owners can be convinced to make the shift.
Lighting for Tomorrow…and Tomorrow…
According to DOE, current LED technology has already produced lamps that can last up to 50,000 hours. That translates into reduced maintenance and replacement costs, especially in commercial buildings and public infrastructure. Combine the energy savings with the long lasting solid state lighting platform, and it would seem that switching to LED technology is a no-brainer. One stumbling block, though, has been making the aesthetic leap out of standard lighting, which after all has been around for more than a century. The competition aims to bridge that gap by showcasing LED fixture design for homes and other small-scale uses such as offices, restaurants and retail stores. This year, DOE has also included categories for replacement bulbs and lighting control devices.
Leaping into an LED World
Though LED fixtures may cost more up front, the long term payback is mighty attractive. The economics of LED lighting have already prompted large scale installations and retrofits, such as new LED lighting at Pittsburgh International Airport. The payback window is also narrowing as the research advances and costs go down. For example, the Oak Ridge National Laboratory has come up with a low cost graphite foam to use as a cooling agent, which will extend the lifespan of LEDs. New applications for LEDs are also in store, as technological improvements boost their power. Just this month a Finnish company announced a powerful new LED light that can be used in aviation beacons – quite a step up from the familiar LED novelty toys of the past.
Image: LED sculptures by jared on flickr.com.
Tina Casey specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. You can also follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.