The Future Looks Bright For LEDs

As demand grows for advanced lighting solutions, the LED market is becoming an even more attractive target for distributors of electronic components. While more “traditional” applications such as television and computer screen backlighting are likely to remain the largest revenue segment for some time, the market for general illumination is growing fast, leading to new opportunities in outdoor lighting and other areas.

A report from the Freedonia Group earlier this year points to the growing demand for advanced lighting solutions in the United States, noting that businesses, governments, and consumers alike are expected to purchase more LEDs, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), halogen lamps, and the like through 2015. Government mandates, declining prices, and a general demand for more efficient lighting solutions are driving the trend.

According to the study, U.S. demand for all types of advanced lighting is forecast to surpass $10 billion by 2015 on annual increases of about 8%. A government-mandated phase-out of less efficient lighting products beginning in January 2012 will drive gains in residential markets while the trend toward energy efficiency will fuel gains elsewhere.

Looking at LEDs, outdoor lighting applications are an especially strong growth market in the United States, says Cary Eskow, global director, LED and lighting programs, advanced LED and solid-state lighting (SSL) solutions for Avnet Electronics Marketing. He specifically refers to lights for building exteriors and pole-mounted lights for parking lots or walkways.

“This particular market is well-suited to HBLEDs (high brightness LEDs) for several reasons. Generally, the service cost of replacing the bulbs and maintaining these systems is high relative to the light fixture itself. Well-designed HBLED replacement fixtures can offer 50,000 hours or more of continual operation—an improvement of several orders of magnitude,” Eskow explains.

“Secondly, the way light emanates from an LED works to our advantage here,” he continues. “LEDs emit all of their light on one side of the device, as opposed to familiar sources such as Edison-style bulbs, mercury vapor lamp or fluorescent tubes, which emit their light in a full-circle radius. The majority of outdoor area lights are not required to illuminate a full radius, and in fact often require additional reflectors to capture and redirect some of the wasted light that would otherwise be shining ‘backwards’ or ‘up.’”

Compared to the market for interior lighting, there are also fewer challenges in using HBLED technology for outdoor area lighting applications. As one example, Eskow says most indoor applications require warm white LEDs, which are less efficient than cool light LEDs.

“In outdoor applications, the net amount of light generated is more important than the color temperature of the light. After all, you’d expect to have candlelit ambiance in a restaurant and not in a parking lot. So, HBLEDs are even more advantageous because cool white devices are used,” Eskow says.

Global Demand

Globally, demand for LEDs varies by region. In places where infrastructure is limited, such as China and India, demand for HBLED streetlights is growing rapidly, and Avnet has worked with customers to develop combination LED/solar solutions to overcome infrastructure challenges. In India, for example, Avnet provides HBLEDs to original equipment manufacturers building portable solar-powered lighting units called “home lights” that deliver light to outlying areas.

From a component standpoint, Eskow says LCD TV, monitor, and laptop backlights, as well as mobile phones, consume the highest volume of HBLEDs. Most of these products are built in Korea, Taiwan, Japan, and China.

“Europe’s HBLED demand is widespread and quite diverse,” Eskow adds. “Key drivers are advanced automotive lighting, architectural lighting, smart streetlights, and retail/residential markets. Some of these smart streetlights, by the way, adjust their light levels throughout the day and night, sense weather and traffic conditions, make and report environmental measurements, and are remotely controlled and monitored.”

There is a common link among all these applications: the need for knowledge and service in developing LED solutions. Helping design engineers determine the best uses for new families of HBLEDs, providing experience with the electronic, optical, and thermal management “ecosystem” that’s required for a given project, and understanding the unique characteristics of each customer’s application and market are keys to success in selling LEDs, Eskow explains.

Avnet is meeting the challenge in several ways. Eskow points to the distributor’s world-wide team of LED applications specialists called “Illumineers,” short for illumination-focused engineers, as one example. These optical, mechanical, thermal, and electrical engineers have extensive LED-based product design backgrounds.

“Another part of the equation is customer education,” Eskow adds, pointing out the need for additional resources such as technical articles, hands-on workshops, and demonstrations.

“[We] also provide our customers with access to specialized photometric equipment and facilities,” he says. “Our in-house labs have multiple-sized integrating spheres, spectrophotometers, thermal probes, and imaging equipment as well as light-engine prototyping capabilities.”

A Bright Outlook

With so much happening in the LED world, Eskow and others point to a bright future for distributors focusing such solutions, particularly as general-purpose applications become more affordable, efficient, and, therefore, attractive to a wider audience. Government incentives combined with a growing desire among consumers and businesses to adopt more “green” energy solutions are also factors.

“Through 2015, demand for light emitting diodes (LEDs) will post the fastest gains, spurred in part by their replacement of general service incandescent lamps,” the Freedonia study on advanced lighting solutions reports. “Improvements in power and quality of light coupled with a dramatic decrease in the price of LEDs will greatly expand their use in general lighting applications.”

Eskow agrees that general-purpose illumination is the fastest-growing segment of the LED market, but notes that manufacturers still have a major obstacle to overcome before the products are commonly found in homes and businesses around the world.

“A simple, high brightness, low-cost, and high-quality LED light bulb replacement with a common screw or pin base remains elusive. Thus, it’s actually easier and more efficient to design an LED luminaire from the ground up, incorporating the devices in the luminaire itself,” he says. “The fact remains that a majority of lighting OEMs will need to create new or modify existing luminaires to compete in this space, and that takes time.”

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