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Light Emitting Diodes – Part 1 of 3
Today, we bring you the first installment in what will be a three-part series on LED lighting. In some ways, it seems it seems hard to believe that something this small – the light emitting diode – will soon have such a huge impact on our industry. But, make no mistake about it, the solid state LED lighting revolution is coming, and it’s coming with a long-term financial impact that’s bigger than anything our industry has ever seen.

So big, in fact, that the United States Department of Energy has gotten into the game, issuing projections and providing a clearing house of information for those who would rather ride the LED wave than be drowned by it. If you know where to look, you can find reams of information concerning he light emitting diodes and the luminaries in which they’re built. Not only are we going to tell you where to look, and why, we’re going to visit with the head of the D.O.E.’s LED initiative.

In Part 1 of our series, ETV’s Bob Mizke sat down with Dr. James Brodrick at the Department of Energy’s Headquarters in Washington, DC.

Bob Mizke: Thank you. I’m joined here by Dr. James Brodrick. Dr. Brodrick, thank you for taking a few minutes with us today.

Dr. James Brodrick, US Department of Energy: Thanks for inviting me, Bob.

BM: Why is the D.O.E. so involved with LED lighting? What’s at stake here?

JB: The LED products can create an awful lot of energy savings, which the Department is interested in. It’s part of our mission. We did a report recently that forecasted into the future that by 2030, LED products will reduce lighting consumption by 46 percent. In 2030, what does 46 percent reduction mean? It means about $30 billion that would go back to the consumer. So it’s got a lot of upside.

BM: How is the LED a big step forward from traditional fluorescents?

JB: Must of the lighting in the commercial sector is done by fluorescents. That’s the single largest lump of energy consumption in the United States. And this is a big jump because you’re going to get much, much more efficiency with LED-type products. Also, you get durability. They’re somewhat directional in their light, and they’re easy to dim and control because they’re all low-voltage DC. So it’s a big paradigm change which people are going to start experiencing right now.

BM: Situated somewhere between traditional fluorescent bulbs and LEDs is the Compact Fluorescent Lamp, or CFL. Dr. Brodrick says that even amidst the LED revolution, they will still have their place.

JB: The LEDs are just a slight bit more efficient. Now, that will change. The LEDs will get much more efficient than the CFLs can ever get. Plus, they’re more durable, they can take vibration, they withstand cold, and they’re dimmable. But CFLs will be around. They won’t go away. They provide good service and right now the pricing is pretty good. So keep in mind that no one has ever completely displaced a light source. We still use candles.

BM: Even for the very few people in the industry who have a handle on LED lighting, there remains an important obstacle – cost. Dr. Brodrick says that will be temporary.

JB: They are a little pricier now, but if you remember, Bob, when you bought that large-screen TV six or seven years ago at $4,000, that was a lot of money. But now you can get that same TV for about $700. The semiconductor industry has a trend of opening at a pretty high price point but then they come down. This will be happening with the LEDs also.

BM: What needs to be done within the electrical industry to provide more information about LEDs and its potential?

JB: At this point in time, education is really important. There are a lot of new concepts, the lighting operates differently, so you need to get a hold of information. There are a lot of very good products out there, and then there are some products that are not so good. We have programs here at D.O.E. that test products – the GATEWAY Program, the CALIPER Program, and it gives you the straight information from the D.O.E. We give you the test results so you can make your decisions to buy, or not buy, or buy in a smarter way. We like people to be better informed.

BM: The CALIPER Program Is the D.O.E.’s program that provides independent test results – good and bad – for a variety of produces within this rapidly moving industry. It’s sort of like the Department’s “Good Housekeeping” seal, as far as LEDs are concerned. The GATEWAY Program can be compared to show and tell for a classroom full of electrical contractors, lighting designers, and even potential customers. GATEWAY shows off successful projects in the real world of commercial and residential applications. But despite all the facts and figures available, there is still one thing that must be overcome. What about change, just on human terms? Some people are resistant to change.

JB: Well, now is a good time. You’re catching it early in the wave, or early in the curve moving up. You want to give yourself that advantage. Change is good. In the next 15-20 years we’ve forecasted $250 billion worth of savings. That’s quite a driver. You don’t want to miss the train.

BM: From where you sit, this is a real area of opportunity for an aggressive electrical contractor moving forward, wouldn’t you say?

JB: Absolutely. I mentioned a little bit earlier, this is a paradigm shift. The last ones occurred back in the 1940s and ‘50s. You want to grab that information and learn all that you can. There are going to be lots of changes and opportunities and you want to be up to date and know everything you can about solid-state lighting.

Today in Part 1, we gave you the big picture in the LED revolution. Coming soon in Part 2 of our series, we’ll drill down a little deeper, when Bob visits with one of our nation’s leading LED experts, Dr. John Curran, President of LED Transformations. Dr. Curran will talk about some of the actual LED luminaire products, and what they do well and don’t do well. We’ll talk about some of the LED myths, a few dos and don’ts and why, if you’re not paying much attention to LEDs, you should.