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Feature LEDs

Five years to world domination I

When it comes to energy efficiency, the benefits of LED technology are well known. This raises the question then as to why they are not used everywhere. Adrian Rawlinson of Marl International, provides some answers

believe that within five years, 90% of RGB architectural lighting will have converted to LED tech- nology. Despite its many advan- tages, it will take this long because there are several barriers that are cur- rently inhibiting wider take-up such as initial cost, the complexity of dri- ving LEDs, thermal management requirements, lack of standardised output measurement leading to con- fusion amongst buyers, industry frag- mentation, and a lack of large lighting manufacturer interest.

Initial cost

If you look at the true cost of owner- ship, and factor in their exceptionally long life as well as low energy use, LED lighting is very economic, but these benefits are less visible to the purchaser, and because the initial pur- chase price is much higher, this tends to put buyers off.

Although LEDs are already excep- tionally good value, I believe that the initial price needs to come down before the technology will take off. There is every reason to suppose that this will happen as volumes rise.

Driving LEDs

The architectural lighting market expects (quite reasonably) to be offered lighting products that can be driven directly from the mains. The pace of growth of LED technology means that often the latest products from the semi- conductor manufacturers aren’t avail- able as integrated assemblies.

Thermal management

LED equivalent lights are now avail- able for almost all domestic and com- mercial applications, and are continuing to make inroads into all kinds of specialist markets including marine, defence, aviation and rail. In principle, I don’t think there is any form of lighting that can’t be addressed by LEDs, but several niches still elude us. Car headlights, the highest effi- ciency fluorescents, stadium flood- lights and gas discharge lamps are major lighting applications where LED lighting cannot currently provide a suitable solution.

The problem isn’t providing suffi- cient light output but getting rid of the associated heat. It is possible to com-


Below: there are barriers that are currently hindering LED take-up, but these will be eroded over time

bine LED die to produce almost any brightness you desire, but LED die has to be kept under 100°C, and often the heat sinks required are just too bulky. The real challenge isn’t making brighter LEDs but making more effi- cient LEDs that generate less heat.


Above: Adrian Rawlinson,

managing director Marl International

There is still no standardised method of measuring light output power across the US, Europe and Asia. Outside the lighting industry, few understand measures such as can- dela, lumens and mean spherical candle power. Buyers instead relate light output to the wattage of the incandescent bulb needed to produce ‘equivalent’ light output, an increas- ingly pointless exercise as this type of lighting is being widely abolished. LEDs have very different character- istics than other forms of light, as they are directional, as opposed to spherical. This is another way in which LEDs are potentially more effi- cient - there are relatively few appli- cations where we actually want to cast light upwards - but it also makes it hard to provide genuinely equiva- lent measures of light output. The increasing use of integrating spheres to measure the total radiant power or luminous flux of light sources is a step in the right direction. Models can be downloaded from sup- pliers’ websites into lighting simula- tion tools like the freely downloadable

Industry fragmentation

One of the reasons for the lack of standards is the fact that the architec- tural LED lighting industry currently consists of a huge number of rela- tively small companies, by contrast with the more mature technologies where consolidation has taken place. Whilst this gives a very dynamic market, it also gives a very confusing picture to buyers. However, this picture is already changing, and consolidation is starting to take place. Over the next five years, I think this process will accelerate giving buyers the consistency of qual- ity and supply they need before they adopt LED as their mainstream light- ing technology.

Large manufacturer interest Despite the acquisitions mentioned here, it is true to say that LED light- ing still represents a fraction of sales for the main lighting manufacturers. Most of the major manufacturers have an LED portfolio, and are demonstrat- ing readiness to invest in it. LED equivalent lights are now available for almost all domestic and commercial applications, and are continuing to make inroads into all kinds of special- ist markets including marine, defence, aviation and rail. However, the initial purchase price will remain high until sales volumes grow. As buyers better understand the lifetime cost of using inefficient light- ing, they are starting to adopt the tech- nology, and I’m confident that we’re seeing the start of a virtuous cycle where growth brings reduced prices which encourages more growth. Even today though, the economics of LED lighting are compelling for those prepared to look beyond the purchase price to the cost of owner- ship over a period as short as a year. Each of the barriers discussed here will be eroded over time, and there is no fundamental issue preventing LED lighting from being adopted much more widely. Given its consid- erable advantages, I’ve no doubt that in five years time, LED lighting will have the lion’s share of the global lighting market.

Marl T: 01229 582 430

Relux. Architects can then produce accurate simulations of the appearance of any given lighting installation in their design.

Enter 235 FEBRUARY 2013 Lighting & Lighting Controls

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