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The Next Stage in Energy Efficiency

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Back in the 90’s, the only place where you would see and LED would be on the on/off buttons of your electrical devices, and only came in red, yellow, green, and more red. With a couple of technological breakthroughs, LEDs are now the next big thing in efficient lighting, increasing the efficiency of a regular lightbulb from a measly 10% (from the tungsten bulbs) to the range of 80 to 90%, and increasing the its lifetime so that you only need to change it once every seven to ten years. That is a huge feat, considering just how much we rely on artificial lighting.

The quality of light is getting better now too, when just a few years back the only LED lighting on the market produced a cool clinical, blueish light that felt not at all homely – today you would hardly be able to tell the difference. Most importantly, they are affordable. Unlike installing solar panels on your rooftops (for those of you lucky enough to own one), or pricey electric vehicles, the LED is only slightly more expensive than the regular and CFL alternatives. What’s more, you make it back very quickly with its super long lifetime and efficiency. LED televisions are still on the pricey side, but give it a little more time and its higher price tag might just about justify your purchase, considering the superior image quality it provides and the savings off your electricity bill – yes, televisions are big electricity guzzlers!

So what’s next? Well, in a few years time, OLEDs might be giving LEDs a run for their money. An OLED is basically an LED (light-emitting diode), but in which the semiconductor layer that emits light (the emissive electroluminescent layer) is made of an organic compound instead of an inorganic one (like plastics, which are organic polymers). What this means is that OLEDs can be in effect printed onto a surface, and the technology lends itself really well to manufacturing ever-thinner and bendable electronic displays for televisions, mobile phones and the like. OLED devices would not require a backlight either, since each pixel generates its own light, so that the blacks are even more vivid than on current devices. A few of these products are already on the market despite coming with a hefty price tag, with a larger selection projected to become available in the next few years. For example, LG’s 55-inch curved OLED TV is already available in a few countries, including the UK, if you are willing to shell out £10,000 for one now.

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The big question is, with LEDs hailed as such a monumental breakthrough for efficient lighting, will there be room for the OLED as the technology matures? IDTechEx research suggests that while the OLED market is predicted to be a $1.3 billion industry by 2023, that will remain only 1.3% of the LED market at the time. It cites a few reasons for this, firstly that in terms of cost and efficiency the OLED is still not quite up to LED standards. Today LEDs cost around $5/klm (kilo-lumens) compared to $400/klm for OLEDs. The LED is also expected to last around 50,000 hours compared to the OLED which typically lasts 5,000 to 15,000 hours. The following chart compares the attributes of existing LEDs and OLEDs:

 
 

 

Source: IDTechEx report OLED vs LED Lighting 

Of course, OLED development is still somewhat at its infancy stage. Moreover, much more money has been spent on the development of LEDs, and OLEDs are gradually receiving more attention and investment. The two types of lighting also serve different purposes too, as LED lighting is a point-source light, and OLED lighting is a surface emitting device. The OLED will need to find its niche and avoid direct competition with the LED to increase its market share in the lighting industry. There are a few other things going for OLEDs as well – they generate very little heat, so that you can touch its surface, and they can be directly recycled in existing waste recycling chains, so they can be considered quite environmentally friendly.

Because OLEDs are still a relatively new technology one usually only finds them in trade shows and tech fairs. However, if you are in New York City you can see the technology first hand, at the Blackbody showroom in SoHo. Their items are for sale, although unless you are a designer/architect or are have very deep pockets you’ll just window shop for now. However, it is a very interesting experience and you get to see what the latest technologies have to offer. It is a taste of things to come, and hopefully in a few years time we will get to see a lot more at much more affordable prices.

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I K's picture
I K on Jun 16, 2013

LED manufacturers are terrible marketers.

You buy a 5 watt LED noted to be 50 watt equivalent, you take it home and install it and find that its nowhere near a 50 watt halogen so you promptly put the halogen back in and throw away the LED. Not to try that again for a few years

Dam manufacturers, why not sell your 15 watt LEDs as 50 watt equivalent so when a customer takes it home and puts it in they get an actual equivalent to 50 watt or better.

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