Green Beam: LEDs Be Cra-Cra

| by Melissa Baldridge
Green Beam: LEDs Be Cra-Cra

Walk down the lighting aisle of any big-box store, and you’ll see something you wouldn’t have five years ago – half the light bulbs available are LED.  And they don't cost $70 a piece either.

I think we’ll look back in 20 years and recognize that now is the time of revolutionary invention with LED lighting – as big as Edison’s discovery of the carbon filament lamp in 1879.

Smaller lighting manufacturers like Acuity and Cree are dumping a mint into R&D (research and development) with bigger companies like GE swallowing smaller brands and their technologies whole.

The upshot for consumers? Cutting-edge technologies are reaching consumers faster through the established distribution channels of bigger companies.  And light bulb (“lamp”) forms are changing radically, giving designers exponentially more ways to use lighting.

There’s also a “Moore’s Law” of efficiency improvements happening so operational costs for LEDs continue to drop.  And some technologies need less material to deliver the same light output so even the upfront cost keeps falling like a rock.

In commercial buildings like office and retail, LEDs are a no-brainer and usually have simple paybacks within three years, though Webb says he doesn’t see much use in hospitality or residential applications (yet).  

One of the first LED manufacturers to break into consumer awareness was Cree, and yes, they even advertised during the Super Bowl. Cree slipped LED technology into familiar-looking Edison bulbs, and the company was one of the first to crash the $5-per-lamp floor, bringing LEDs into mainstream consumer awareness.

 GE Lightstick via The Home Depot

But the coolest thing about LED technology is that it smashes convention about what bulbs need to look like, and this year, GE launched the Bright Stik, a cylindrical screw-in lamp ¾-inch thick and a few inches long.

“The Bright Stik is essentially a 60-watt incandescent replacement about the size of your thumb,” says Webb Lawrence, executive vice president of LED Supply Co. in Denver. 

Lawrence talks about the changing “form factors” of lighting and how LEDs can be made in disks, sticks, plates and even sheets.  “The Bright Stik has an Edison [screw-in] base, and it produces the same amount of lumens [light output] of a regular 60-watt incandescent – with only three watts.”

REAL ESTATE IMPACT: Add to the wow factor when selling a home with the Phillips hue lighting automation package – three LED bulbs, a bridge and an app for approximately $200.  It’s a fun, energy-efficiency feature to add that controls LED lighting on a smart phone.  And don’t forget to mention it in your marketing. 

Lawrence says since he formed his company in 2009 (at the nadir of the recession), he’s seen lamp efficiencies mushroom. (Lighting efficiency is measured in “lumens” – light output per watt.)

“At this time last year, top-of-the-line fixtures cast 100 lumens per watt.  Today, it’s between 120 and 150 lumens.”  Webb says as technologies continue to advance, he doesn’t see any ceiling on efficiencies.

Photo via

Another way LED manufacturers continue to drop lamp cost while delivering more lumens is by using less material. Lawrence points to “edge lighting,” which is largely in commercial architectural applications. You’ve probably seen it with acrylic signage and etched messaging, like in exit signs.

“What manufacturers are able to do is cut the number of diodes in a fixture.  Instead of diodes shooting downward, they are using acrylic lenses that have been laser-etched in order to reflect the light.”

Fewer diodes equals less cost.

Photo via

But the most exciting technology is OLED – organic LED lighting that’s bendable and paper-thin.  Not only does it use less material, it’s even more efficient than it used to be – 57 percent because nanotechnology (technology on a micro scale) enables OLEDs to throw off even more lumens.

“It’s in its infancy,” says Webb, and he doesn’t anticipate significant availability for two to three years. But electronics manufacturers like Samsung and LG already offer TVs that compete handily with LCD (liquid crystal display) models, and most of us have been using some form on OLED on cell phone screens for years.

“The diode is 4 inches, by two inches, and it’s millimeters thin,” he says.  “You can do things like bend it.  Now all of a sudden, you can bend the light source itself, creating neat architectural light fixtures that people haven’t seen before.” While Webb doesn’t currently get lots of orders for OLED lighting in buildings, he anticipates that will change in the next couple of years.

And for people (clients) who are incandescent bulb hoarders, you better buy up now.  Since the Department of Energy phased out 60-watt light bulbs last year, those backroom stores at Home Depot will dwindle ‘til they’re gone.

Dear readers, if you mention you read this blog post, Webb at LED Supply Co. will give you 5 percent off your LED order.  You can reach him at [email protected], 1-877-595-4769.  

Topics: Connected Homes / Smart Homes, Cost of Ownership, Energy Star, Going Green, Lighting

Companies: General Electric

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