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OLEDs Lighting the Way for Innovation, Energy Savings

Florescent light bulb

Organic LEDs (OLEDs), which use a series of thin organic films placed between two conductors to emit light, first became available in 2010. These products have not seen as significant an increase in sales as LED products, due largely to their higher price tags. Traditional LEDs gained popularity mostly due to a continuous drop in price over the past 5 years. While OLED prices still remain higher than LEDs, their prices have begun to fall in a trend similar to that of LEDs in the past year, and these falling prices will play a paramount role in the increased adoption of OLED lighting. According to Navigant Research’s OLED Lighting for Residential and Commercial Buildings report, OLED shipments are expected to increase from an estimated 150,000 shipments in 2016 to nearly 300,000 shipments in 2025.

The Case for OLEDs

Consumers were unsure of LEDs when they first became commercially available, but as prices decreased and the added benefits of the technology were realized—most notably in energy savings, controllability, and prolonged lifespan—the popularity of LEDs grew substantially. OLEDs have experienced similar barriers, but design flexibility adds appeal and value to the higher priced products. Many consumers are willing to pay a premium for design aesthetics and superior lighting quality, both aspects of OLED products. OLEDs are not expected to replace LEDs, surpass them in efficiency, or offer a lower price point, but sales of the technology are expected to rise, especially in more niche markets such as decorative fixtures and accent and task lighting.

OLED panels emit light over the full surface of the light, which creates a diffused light that can be viewed more directly than LEDs or other light sources such as incandescent bulbs or compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs). The diffused light allows the panels to be used in close proximity to a task surface, reducing glare. As both the efficacy and lifespan of OLED lamps increase, interest in these products is expected to also rise. Efficacy, the performance measure of a lamp or luminaire, is measured in lumens per watt, or the amount of light output from the lamp per watt of electricity consumed. OLEDs currently have efficacies ranging from 60 lm/W to 80 lm/W (compared with levels of above 100 lm/W for traditional LEDs), and improving the efficacy of OLEDs is a priority for vendors in the lighting industry. The goal is to reach 100 lm/W in the near term, potentially as soon as 2017.

Energy efficiency regulations have helped drive LED sales and are likely to do the same for OLED products. In early 2016, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) proposed the Energy Conservation Standards for General Service Lamps rule, the second phase of the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) originally signed into law in 2007. The proposed rule would require an efficiency level that, while not exclusive to any specific lighting technology, is currently only met by LEDs. While OLEDs currently do not meet this level, vendors are working to increase efficiency, and these new DOE regulations will encourage greater advancement of efficiency in OLEDs. Other regulations, such as Title 24, California’s energy standard, are likely to set similar requirements.

The thin layers of organic materials that make up OLEDs create malleable panels, which increase the technology’s flexibility in design and applications. The new form factor created from OLED panels presents new possibilities in the lighting industry, and while this malleability of lighting design is not needed in all applications, there are significant benefits to task and aesthetic lighting as well as general purpose lighting. In addition, OLED panels come in a variety of colors (with some even possessing the ability to change color), providing an added level of customization for decorative fixtures. Color-tunable OLED light panels are providing new options to the lighting market; the potential to tweak the shape and color of these alternative-form light sources sets the stage for the complete redesign of lighting.

The End of the Lightbulb

Traditionally, luminaires have been placed on walls or ceilings and featured easily replaceable lamps due to the need to frequently change out bulbs. However, with the advancement of lighting technology, lighting products are not as limited as they once were. This transformation of design and application presents new form factors and possibilities. While this transformation is not limited to OLEDs (and is in fact just as prevalent in the LED market, if not more so), these innovative designs create another driver of OLED products.

Many companies are already embracing this shift in how we view lighting. Navigant Research’s The End of the Light Bulb whitepaper looks at the LED and OLED products that utilize this flexible design. Acuity is a leader in the OLED space, with a line of OLED products available directly to consumers at retail home improvement stores. The company’s TRILIA series of lights allows designers, architects, and installers to create patters using ceiling-mounted OLED panels. The TRILIA series is a prime example of how OLED technology is moving away from the traditional lamp and luminaire framework and toward a completely new form factor and way of organizing and arranging lighting.

From wall-mounted light screens, to flexible hanging luminaires, to full lighting ceilings, a shift is already taking place in the world of lighting. While the end of the lightbulb will not happen immediately, OLED products are poised to play a part in the shift of the energy efficiency lighting market.   

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