Are we finally seeing the light when it comes to LED technology?
LED lighting has been around for a while, in our cell phones, homes and cars. LED lights are generally accepted to be more environmentally sound and to last much longer—LED headlamps on newer car models will last the entire life of the vehicle and won’t drain the battery like conventional lights.
Widespread adoption of LED lighting however has been slow, mainly because of the up-front purchase cost. But with the onslaught of stricter environmental regulations and a push towards energy efficiency LEDs are receiving renewed interest.
Recently, the United Kingdom made its first real foray into LED lights for a major traffic route, introducing 70 LEDs at the junction between Bath and Bristol. The lights automatically adjust brightness levels according to the time of day and the number of vehicles on the route. The expectation is that the new lighting will make the route safer for drivers and cyclists as well as cutting the carbon footprint and easing the electricity costs to local taxpayers.
The UK isn’t the only country forging ahead. Earlier this year Philips supplied 293 LED lights for a stretch of highway near Amsterdam.
A dimming system on the Amsterdam lights raises and lowers the light as needed and also adjusts during rainfall. A nifty trick that UK-based Philips Lighting claims is safer and more cost-effective than switching conventional lights on at night and completely off during the day.
“LEDs are the future. The running costs of LED streetlights are 70 percent lower than lights with conventional lamps,” Andy Gowen, Director of Philips Outdoor Lighting Solutions, told LEDs Magazine.
LEDs Magazine reports that the Philips dimmable LED lighting installation will result in 40 percent reduction in CO2 emissions and a 40 percent energy reduction when compared to the previous lighting—a big deal in the Netherlands in particular where 60 percent of the energy consumed on motorways and waterways is used for lighting.
The highway lights provide better visibility for drivers because light is projected onto the highway rather than focused around the bottom of the lamppost. And similar to the UK project, Amsterdam hopes it will see significant cost returns based on low maintenance—LED lights last 50 times longer than their predecessors and also perform better in cold weather conditions.
It’s clear that LED technology addresses the three big issues of today—energy consumption, environment and budget deficit—in a very real way. According to The U.S. Department of Energy, widespread adoption of LED lighting by 2025 will reduce electricity demands from lighting by 62 percent, eliminate 258 million metric tons of carbon emissions and result in less material put into landfills.
In a January 2011 report put together for the US Department of Energy, Navigant—an industry consultant specializing in energy, healthcare, construction—found that switching the 52.6 million roadway lights in the US to LEDs in 2010 would have saved the equivalent of the annual electricity consumption of one and a half million American residential households.
So is there any downside to LEDs? Well, it’s taken a while for LED lighting to catch on commercially because it’s more expensive up-front than conventional lighting. But if one looks at the overall lifespan of LEDs the long-term cost savings seem clear.
And environmentally, long-lasting, mercury-free LEDs seem to beat out other types of lighting. However, a recent study at the University of California at Irvine found that some LEDs in car brake lights and headlights when crushed contain lead and arsenic in large enough amounts that they should be classified as hazardous material under both US federal and California regulations.
As LED lights gain in popularity, manufacturers should watch for new environmental compliance regulations in this arena.