LEDs represent the most significant development in lighting since the invention of the electric light more than a century ago.
They allow us to create unique, low energy lighting solutions, not to mention their lower maintenance costs and as investment continues and volumes increase, the price of LEDs should come down by 10 per cent or more a year.But when will LEDs become more mainstream? Assuming LED lighting continues to develop as expected, it is now possible to predict the future with some certainty.
For some time now LED lighting systems have been used to light up buildings, bridges and monuments. Due to their flexibility and the possibility to set any desired colour, LEDs offer lighting solutions, which are not possible with any other existing technologies, such as colour wall washing, sharp light/shadow lines and avoiding light pollution on windows.
Offices are already seeing the first niche LED applications with desk lights and particularly emergency lighting. However, as replacements for conventional general lighting LEDs are still some years off because the cost/lumen ratio is still too high – performance will have to improve (at least >80 lm/w at a system level) to compete.
Nevertheless, the next few years should see the first effective LED solutions in specialised areas of the office, such as, reception and meeting areas, where more decorative effects are required. Within three to five years the first solutions should become available which can compete with compact fluorescent technology on total cost of ownership criteria and within a decade LEDs should become a viable option for general lighting solutions.
LED replacements/retrofits are already making a small impact in industrial niche areas mainly concerned with lighting in fi re hazard and explosion risk areas. LEDs are ideal because they operate at Safety Extra Low Voltages (SELV) – typically 12V or 24V. Their reliability, long life and instant flicker-free turn on are also major selling points. But similar to the commercial market, general LED lighting solutions are still some years away.
In the leisure sector, hotels and restaurants are installing LED lighting for decorative purposes in bars plus reception and dining areas. Hotels are also beginning to use LED bedside and standing lamps and effective 3W LED downlighters, (designed to replace 20W halogen versions), are expected within a year or so.
LEDs are also being used in hotel signage to replace fluorescent, incandescent and neon lamps. Their low energy consumption, bright clear colours and long life make them ideal.
It’s an application that is frequently utilised within the retail sector. LEDs are also finding an ideal application in commercial freezers since they areunaffected by the cold and have already replaced traditional TL flourescents in some areas.
Elsewhere, expect new LED shelf lighting within a year and compact LED mini spotlights soon after. Within three to five years, LEDs should start to appear in general retail lighting applications.
The potential for LEDs in the fashion and high end of the retail market is also significant, where they are already being used for ambience creation and dynamic effects.
The first display LED lighting systems are also starting to appear on the market, but it will be at least five to ten years before effective LED lighting solutions will start to appear in mainstream shop lighting.
In the coming years, the light output of LEDs will continue to increase, enabling mass-market general lighting applications from approx 2010 onwards. The first effective general LED solutions to replace incandescents will appear on the market over the next two to three years, but initially they will be relatively expensive.
However, as development continues the main question is not when they will replace what, but what new developments will be made possible.