Starting with 2003, the U.S. Department of Energy has invested with industry partners in research and development of solid-state lighting (SSL)—including both light-emitting diode (LED) and organic light emitting diode (OLED) technologies. Recently there was a competition, called the "L-Prize," where the U.S. government is offering a $10 million prize, to the company that builds the most efficient bulb with the most pleasing light. Why such concentrated attention on SSL?
The answer is simple: because of SSL's rapid ongoing improvements and superior energy-saving potentialPDF. It is estimated that switching to LED lighting over the next two decades could save the country $120 billion in energy costs over that period, reduce the electricity consumption for lighting by one-fourth, and avoid 246 million metric tons of carbon emission.
Improving cost competitiveness. One major roadblock for SSL is cost. Today, the purchase price of LED lighting products is generally higher than that of their conventional counterparts, often by a long shot, and the energy savings often aren't enough to offset the difference within an attractive payback period. So while LEDs are often not cost effective today, there's a wealth of information showing that they will continue to decline rapidly in price.
There's little doubt that solid-state lighting ultimately will emerge as the technology of choice for an unparalleled variety of applications, because, all things being equal, everyone—building owners included—wants to save energy and protect the environment. Meanwhile, all things are not equal, which is why DOE repeatedly emphasizes that SSL is right for some applications but not for others—and why education and due diligence should be key elements in any lighting specification and purchasing process.