Fast developing LED lighting technology leads to massive growth in demand

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 The lighting industry is now moving towards a new system of performance measurement—to a standard referred to as ‘hot lumen performance’

LED lights

Wednesday, October 10, 2012: The good points

Driven by the need to cut energy costs, LED technology has become one of the fastest developing fields in recent years. This is particularly true for the Asia-Pacific region, where we have seen massive growth in demand for cutting edge LED technology, particularly in the solar market. A recent report from Frost and Sullivan found that LED lighting is set to dominate the lighting market and force out older, more energy intensive products.

LED lighting offers a number of significant advantages over traditional halogen products, with lower running costs, longer operating life and, therefore, much cheaper maintenance.

The current driving force in the LED market is efficiency and the range of technologies within the LED lighting domain. Without the proper power and control technologies supporting LEDs, it cannot deliver the energy and environmental savings that it should. With LED lighting technology moving forward so quickly, coupled with projects in the pipeline with up to a three year lead time, there is an interesting dynamic between its current possibilities and its future potential.

As the next generation of lighting technology, high power LEDs are environmentally friendly and boast of a long life, with reduced cost of maintenance. With a single LED lamp of 100 W being able to reach the lighting intensity of a 250 W high voltage sodium lamp, LED solutions present significant power efficiency when they are utilised as street lighting. Today, solid state lighting (SSL) market is focused on systems efficacy, which represents a more complicated challenge for lighting electronics design engineers (EDEs). They will need to place more emphasis on safety, power regulation, light dimming controls, communication protocols, sensing and wireless integration into the lighting fixtures. Each of these requirements represents a totally different group of suppliers.

As LED technology gets more advanced and evolves to deliver better lumens per watt performance, mid and high power LEDs are finding their way into a variety of lighting applications, especially in public areas or in portable (battery powered) devices. For example, a UK based company, NJO Technology, has installed innovative LED lighting in some of London’s most iconic buildings. The Apollo Theatre in the West End, the Royal Albert Hall, Heathrow’s Terminal 3 and the outside of the newly refurbished Kings Cross station have all been illuminated by NJO Technology.

To put the possibilities into perspective, NJO’s work at Kings Cross features custom machined stainless steel housing that protects a Cree MC-E series RGBCW LED, frosted output optics and clear glass lens. With each LED putting out 100 lumens, and a total of 1080 LED units making up the fountain installation, the result will be an impressive display requiring 9 universes (4,320 channels) of synchronised DMX512.

Ravi Pagar, regional director, element14
Ravi Pagar, regional director, element14

One area where LED lighting is really taking off is in solar and off-grid applications, where such lighting can provide a much higher output than halogen bulbs or can be used where batteries are just not practical. A typical off-grid application is the LED lantern, popular in places like India where most of the country still doesn’t have the luxury of easily accessible mains electricity. Besides, solar power LED applications such as solar street lamps are an interesting application, which involve a wider range of technologies than just SSL. Some of the key design issues that must be addressed are: generating the maximum power out of the solar panel, how to charge the battery for energy storage, and how to drive most of the LEDs in an outdoor environment.

What’s in demand?

Currently, the SSL market can be divided into three major areas:

  • Ballasts: Multipurpose constant current LED drivers
  • Luminaires: Outdoor/indoor/specialty lighting
  • Lamps (retrofits): GU10/PAR16, E14/C43, E27/A55/A60, and PAR30/PAR38 along with MR16 and T8 LED tubes.

In terms of product shipments, the biggest demand comes from mid-power applications, for example, LED tubes (T8 LED). Currently, price is a barrier for the mass market acceptance of high power LEDs, but this situation is expected to change after 2015, according to a report by Strategies Unlimited, which anticipates widespread acceptance as costs decrease.

The lighting industry is now moving towards a new system of performance measurement, to a standard referred to as ‘hot lumen performance’. This benchmark measures lumen performance after the LED lighting fixture reaches thermal equilibrium. As LED performance is closely related to heat dissipation, there is a risk that any excess heat can damage the LED in the longer term. This new standard is designed to reflect the ‘real world’ performance rather than results obtained in lab conditions.

The flip side of the coin

Of course, there is a flip side to the coin too—evolving technology means costs and BOMs (bill of materials) can evolve just as rapidly. This means lighting designers with a project idea might find that they can achieve a lot more than they initially had in mind, potentially saving costs, energy and installation time. As a result, some of the leading companies in this space are designing for projects without knowing the full potential of the technology they are working with.

In the LED lighting market, the industry deals with the challenges of pricing, branding, retail channel and regulation. Manufacturers are turning to chip on board (COB) designs and quality enhancements to overcome the price challenges and demonstrate value. We could witness a trend of local manufacturers in Asia dropping out of the market. Moreover, in China there are rare earth export quota regulations to contend with. With many of the phosphors used in LEDs containing some rare earth elements, the availability of these materials is currently causing some concern to Chinese suppliers.

Electronics Bazaar, South Asia’s No.1 Electronics B2B magazine

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