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LED lighting: The key is in the fixture design

LED lighting: The key is in the fixture design

Want to be a factor in the solid-state lighting business? Forget about making light-emitting diodes (LEDs). Real success will only come to companies able to excel in the optics, electronics, and overall development that will let fixtures fit into applications like a glove.

That was the message at a recent press event held by GE Lighting in its Cleveland, Ohio Lighting & Electrical Institute. GE, which is one of the largest LED white lighting suppliers, doesn't make LEDs and doesn't think it needs to, says GE Lighting Solutions VP of Marketing & Global Product Management Steven Briggs. The differentiation in solid-state lighting, says Briggs, will come from the electronic drives, controls, and optics rather than from LEDs themselves.

One indication of this trend is the emerging Zhaga standards for light engines that define several hockey puck-like modules containing LEDs. As LED technology progresses, fixtures can be updated simply by swapping in a new light engine. To that end, GE has helped define a Zhaga book, or interface platform, that will be among those serving as global standards.

GE figures that 60 to 70% of the lighting industry will be based on LED light by 2020, but right now, "$20 LED lights won't activate consumers," says GE Lighting Global Product General Manager John Strainic, meaning that kind of price point won't motivate people to buy. Back in the days when CFLs were first coming on the market, GE noticed a surge in consumer acceptance once the bulbs got below $5 each, says Strainic. He figures the same price point might open the flood gates for LEDs.

But though LED prices are dropping at the rate of about 20% annually, it could take awhile for LED-based bulbs to get down to such levels. More efficient bulb and fixture manufacturing methods can't be counted on to drag down costs in the near term simply because 40 to 60% of the cost of LED bulbs is still in the LEDs themselves, points out GE Lighting Solutions President & CEO Jaime Irick. He characterizes the level of automation used in GE LED-related lighting production as "diverse." GE has production facilities both in the U.S. and off-shore.

But indications are some suppliers won't be around to see lower LED lamp prices. "In CFLs, it took five to eight years for entrants in that market to consolidate," says Strainic. "In LEDs, the flushing out has already started. We've had customers tell us stories about trying to call an LED lighting supplier and finding out the number had been disconnected." The other problem with this scenario: "You have to beware of getting a ten-year warranty from a ten-month company in this business," he says.

Not helping matters is the fact that some retailers have had to pull LED products off their shelves because they've failed to meet published standards. "A lot of players (in LED lighting) are not doing what they claim they can do," says Irick. "In DoE CALiPER testing, well over 30% of LED products don't match their manufacturers' claims."

Next year, though, consumers will have more LED bulbs to choose from. GE says sometime next year it expects to have LED bulbs on the market that give off light levels equivalent to those of 75-W and 100-W incandescent bulbs.

GE Lighting: http://www.gelighting.com/na/

CALiPER program: http://www1.eere.energy.gov/buildings/ssl/about_caliper.html

Zhaga Consortium: http://www.zhagastandard.org/

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