April 30, 2009, 8:30 am
LED Lighting Gaining Acceptance (Sort Of)
By Eric A. Taub
The recent replacement of the incandescent lamps in Grand Central Terminal in New York with compact fluorescent bulbs notwithstanding, the lighting industry continues to believe that LEDs, not C.F.L.s, will eventually be the technology of choice for many lighting applications.
As I note in an article about the commercial use of LED lighting in today’s Business of Green special section, lighting designers who just one year ago were wary of recommending LED products now are much more confident in doing so.
That’s partly due to the move, spearheaded by the Department of Energy, to set Energy Star guidelines for the next generation of lighting to convince consumers and businesses that LED products will perform as claimed.
But it’s also due to the improvement of the lighting itself. LED lamps are becoming more efficient, producing warmer, more inviting colors at higher brightness levels.
On Tuesday, I was shown a new reflector lamp from Nexxus Lighting, similar to the type installed in many kitchen and office ceilings, that produced a warm, pleasing light. It weighs about one-third of a competing lamp and uses 8 watts to produce the light of a 50-watt bulb.
But how many homes and businesses are satisfied with 50-watt lamps? When the industry starts producing 75- and 100-watt equivalents, LEDs will begin to gain traction. (Cree, a lighting company, has announced a reflector lamp that it says produces a similar look to a halogen lamp, uses 12 watts, and can replace up to a 90-watt incandescent lamp.)
Are LED lamps ready for the consumer? Hardly. Most of the strange-looking LED products sold in home improvement stores remain below par. Many manufacturers make unsubstantiated claims about lamp life and brightness.
But for the well-heeled set, there are plenty of highly regarded products that use a fraction of the power of an incandescent bulb. But they come at a high initial price. I recently visited a home in the tony Brentwood section of Los Angeles that was entirely lit with LED “downlights” made by Cree, and I couldn’t tell the difference between the light from those fixtures and standard bulbs. And Dean Kamen, inventor of the Segway scooter, has lighted the home he owns on a small island only with Color Kinetics LED products.
The Department of Energy is conducting a seminar in a few weeks to discuss the state of LED lamps that can replace standard incandescents. And more commercial buildings, including a wing of the Pentagon and even a KFC/Taco Bell restaurant, have switched over to the new technology.
But despite these successes, many engineers remain resistant to using LEDs. A major real estate developer in Los Angeles recently showed me correspondence from his engineering team questioning why anyone in his right mind would use LED lamps in a commercial project, citing high cost as a reason to eschew their use. For now, the lighting industry and the building industry often seem to be speaking different languages