How LEDs have changed the world

Over the past decade, LED technologies have been popping up everywhere at an increasing rate. The applications are vast, from OLED displays, automotive, to street lighting, to home accent lighting around a TV. LEDs have become a default choice in many lighting applications, while older technologies like incandescent bulbs are becoming outdated. The lighting industry has been redefined by LED technologies, which only continue to develop, getting better, brighter, and more versatile.

LEDs were first invented in the 1960s by Nick Holonyak Jr. These early generations of LEDs did not have the high-performance of LEDs we know today. Yet they were still marginally better than the previously popular incandescent bulbs. Therefore, they did not gain their popularity and good reputation until much later. In fact, in 2012, LEDs only accounted for less than 1% of sales in the lighting market. But since then, the LED market has been rapidly booming. In 2020, LEDs held 69% of the lighting market share and are projected to make up 95% of the sales by 2025 (reported by Goldman Sachs).

What boosted the focus on LEDs and their wider implementation was government incentives. Government agencies offered financial support and approved mandates to promote greener energy efficiency programs. These new standards drove advancements in the quality and performance of available LED technologies. This shift in focus helped grow the LED market, with more companies and manufacturers entering it. This increased market competition has helped LEDs become more price competitive, ultimately benefitting consumers. Particularly within the last decade semiconductor prices have fallen, making LED solutions more affordable for both home and industrial applications.

LEDs have come a long way from where they first began. In 2022, the LED lighting market was valued at 72.12 billion USD and is anticipated to continue growing up to 230.27 billion by 2032 (The Brainy insights, 2023). Therefore, the determination of manufacturers to continue improving LED technologies is unlikely to slow down.

Why LEDs have superseded older technologies…

Before the popularity of LEDs, incandescent and halogen bulbs ruled the lighting market. These solutions are typically low-cost to implement, hence their popularity. LED solutions have come down in price in recent years, yet they typically still cost more upfront than other bulbs. But LEDs continue to be the preferred choice in many cases. The lower ongoing and running costs of LEDs, more than make up for their higher initial investment.

Unlike incandescent and halogen bulbs, LEDs consume less energy, produce less heat as a by-product, and do not contain filaments that regularly burn out. This means that LEDs are a more reliable light source that offer longer lifetimes and less maintenance costs, as they do not need frequent replacement. Instead of burning out, LEDs may experience ‘lumen depreciation’ whereby the brightness slowly dims over time. But this occurs over a vast number of hours and will be very gradual.

LEDs are a directional light source; they emit light in a specific direction. In comparison, incandescent and traditional CFL lamps emit light and heat in all directions, meaning there is more energy and light wastage. LEDs project light and use energy more efficiently in a multitude of applications. These benefits are further exemplified when secondary optics are applied.

Innovative LED applications….

Due to the small size of LEDs, their applicability is huge. They enable the implementation of light in useful and unique design concepts to be a reality. Here are just a few:

  • Wearable electronics with addressable LEDs. – Intelligent LED Pixels are a cost-effective and creative way to play with lighting design. Commonly used for DIY maker projects to create some cool effects such as working them into clothes or wearable accessories. These LEDs can also be used in applications like gaming peripherals, ambient TV backlighting, under-counter lighting, and any other general colour accent lighting.
  • Flexible LEDs in foldable smartphones and screens. – For example, researchers at Zhejiang University have created transparent and flexible LED screens, which are manufactured using silver nanowires, improving upon previous manufacturing methods. This new method is more cost-effective and enables a transparent, flexible result.
  • Horticultural LEDs. – Indoor farms can be expensive to set up and run. So, for many growers finding the most cost-effective way to do so is vital. High-pressure sodium lamps (HPS) have been a popular solution in horticultural lighting for years, but now they are being superseded by LEDs. LED grow lights typically offer at least 50,000 hours of sustained light, which could mean up to 15 years of quality indoor growing! LED solutions can also offer more control and intelligence, growers can implement smart LED systems that allow for Wi-Fi-enabled devices to pinpoint exactly what the grow lights do, and when.
  • UV LEDs for sterilisation. – UVC disinfection differs greatly to other disinfection methods that use heat or chemicals. It has a wide range of applications and has become increasingly popular. Since the coronavirus pandemic hit in 2020, as a society, we are more aware of bacteria and more accepting of measures taken to reduce transmission. It can be ideal in medical applications including hospitals and dentistry.
  • Infrared heat detection and security– 3D facial recognition systems such as that on your phone, use near-infrared (NIR) light patterns to detect the user’s facial geometry. Infrared (IR) LEDs are also implemented in security cameras and motion sensors. All humans emit heat, which is detectable through these cameras which can be used for CCTV, automatic number plate recognition, and night vision goggles.

Learn more about how LEDs work here.

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