Light emitting diodes (LEDs) are quickly gaining popularity as a light source in homes and offices. Because of their performance advantages over other available lighting technologies, they stand poised to rule the indoor lighting market in a few short years.
OK, bear with me – quick science amp; history lesson. Light emitting diodes are semiconductors designed to emit light when electrically charged. Despite their high-tech reputation, they’ve actually been around for a century; LEDs were first developed in the early 1900s, but didn’t see practical usage until the 1960s when they began to appear in electronic displays. But at that time they still lacked the brightness to function as a light source for anything beyond a small letter or number readout, and their chemical components could only produce red light.
Fast forward to the present. Design advances have led to far brighter LEDs, and diodes that can produce virtually any color light desired. But they’re still fairly expensive to manufacture when compared to other common light sources used in building applications. So why are they gaining such popularity? Easy: They’re efficient, they’re durable, and they’re clean.
LEDs are far more efficient at producing light than incandescent or even fluorescent lights. Unlike their competitors, LEDs actually convert most of their electrical consumption into usable light output instead of wasting it in the form of heat. Average current-generation LEDs are capable of approximately 50% more efficiency than equally bright fluorescent bulbs and more than double the efficiency of incandescents; some next-gen LEDs claim an 8-fold advantage over their incandescent rivals. An additional, indirect energy-efficiency perk of LEDs is the lack of heat generated – ambient heat that no longer needs to be offset by ventilation or air-conditioning systems.
A second huge advantage of LEDs as a light source is their durability. Because of their sealed, filament-free design, they are not nearly as vulnerable to impact or moisture as incandescent or fluorescent bulbs. And an LEDs lifespan is far beyond that of its competitors: whereas an incandescent bulb might last 1,000 hours or a fluorescent up to 10,000 hours, an LED can easily achieve 50,000 hours of operation.
LEDs also have a particular “clean” advantage over fluorescent bulbs, which themselves have gained great popularity recently because of their own efficiency advantages over traditional incandescent bulbs. Besides being even more energy efficient and durable than fluorescent bulbs, LEDs contain no mercury. As more homes and businesses switch over to fluorescent bulbs, there are increasing concerns about the bulbs’ mercury content winding up in landfills and waste disposal facilities. And along those same lines, there are concerns about residents being exposed to hazardous materials in the event of a fluorescent bulb breakage.
So why don’t we all have homes and offices full of LEDs? Be patient; they just need a little more time. One factor still being refined is the quality of the light; just as fluorescents took a bit of tweaking before they evolved from harsh institutional lights to the nice soft lights we enjoy now, LED’s are still evolving to produce the amount and kind of light that consumers want to live with. But the biggest factor is the cost: even though long term power savings might make up the difference, an LED today can cost around $40, and that’s an initial purchase price that scares off many consumers compared to a few dollars for a fluorescent bulb or a few cents for an incandescent. But in the next five to ten years, as design and manufacturing techniques improve, and as consumer confidence in the LEDs grows, prices will certainly drop. Old-fashioned bulbs will just be a hot, dirty memory, and LEDs will light the way to the future.