As makers, we’ve all experienced LEDs. We use them to make throwies, blink them with Arduinos, and mix them to make nearly any color imaginable. We love them because they are cheap (well, some of them), useful, fun, and typically operate at low voltages. Just like us makers, manufacturers are coming up with new ways to use LED lights in products. From computer screens to car headlights, LEDs are rapidly starting to take over leaving incandescent, and even fluorescent, lights in the past. In this new Maker Press book LED Lighting – A Primer to Lighting the Future, author Sal Cangeloso shines a light on LEDs.
Recently, O’Reilly publicist Mary Rotman caught up with Sal Cangeloso to find out what the big deal is about LED lighting, and how it can change (and is currently changing!) our future.
Why is LED lighting so important right now? LED lighting is important right now because it is at, or at the very least near, a transition point. The technology already makes sense for use in businesses and continuous-use scenarios and very soon it will make sense in the majority of lighting. This includes the standard, screw-in socket that is used in every building in the country. It might not be a transition that everyone is thinking about actively, but it has major implications for energy use and environmental initiatives. Additionally it’s a really interesting example of how technology changes over time and it results in a noticeable change in our lives.
When did you start getting interested in LED lighting? I’ve been following the industry on and off for a number of years now. Initially I was intrigued by what LED lighting could offer, but dismayed by the prices and the performance of early LED lamps. All the while, I was never happy with CFL bulbs. So over the years I heard people have the same complaints I had about efficient CFL bulbs while watching LEDs getting better and cheaper. I started to foresee a major transition happening around 2012 and started researching. Ultimately, my research showed my timing was a bit optimistic, but it’s now clear that a change is coming.
Are there any notable companies using LED lighting exclusively? Lots of companies are making the switch to LED lighting. Some of the most notable include Facebook’s use of “smart lighting” by Redwood Systems in one of their data centers and Walmart’s transition to LED retrofits. Other interesting transitions are happening in government usage–New York City is testing out LED street lamps in some areas–and then high profile projects, like the Empire State Building’s switch to Philips LED fixtures earlier this year.
What are the major challenges that electronics companies are running into with LED lighting? Companies have been hitting all sorts of hurdles with LED lighting. The two biggest are cooling and cost. The simple fact is that LED’s don’t like high temperatures, it shortens their lives and limits how bright they can get. So designing 75- and 100 watt-equivalent bulbs has been a challenge. The issue of cost is really simple: people expect their lighting to be inexpensive. So even though LED bulbs save money over time (because of the power they save) people just won’t spend $25 on a bulb. Initial costs have dropped and will continue to do so, but they need to get lower before we see mass adoption.
How can LED lighting change the future? I’ll try not to get carried away here, but LED lighting will save billions on power and will slow down the production of CFLs, which have mercury in them and are a pain to dispose of. They are also convenient–bulbs tend to be rated for about 25 years, so you won’t have to get back on that step ladder again too soon. Also, new LED lights are starting to look really good, so hopefully they will make people happier with their indoor lighting.
This and other great Maker Press books are available in both print and PDF format in the Maker Shed!