If there ever was a disruptive technology, light-emitting diodes (LEDs) certainly fit the bill. They are slowly but surely taking over more and more lighting applications, from cell phones and signs to street lamps and indoor lighting. Only in recent years, though, have LEDs that produce white light come into their own. Since LEDs are semiconductors, they are still climbing a technology curve that will make them brighter, cheaper, and more energy-efficient. One day, they may even replace the lowly light bulb. And that would be a good thing, snce lighting consumes about 22 percent of all of our energy.
In this week's episode of The New Disruptors, I visit John Edmond and John Palmour, the co-founders of LED-maker Cree in Raleigh, NC (see earlier post here) to find out how far these little lights can go. I also talk to the mayor of Raleigh, which is replacing all of its outdoor municipal lighting with LEDs to save on the city's energy bills (Toronto is following suit). Watch the video. Full transcript after the break.
TRANSCRIPT: TOMORROW'S LIGHT (CREE)
ERICK SCHONFELD, EDITOR-AT-LARGE, BUSINESS 2.0: Erick Schonfeld with the New Disruptors. I am in North Carolina at the headquarters of Cree, one of the leading producers of light-emitting diodes, or LEDs. You might be familiar with LED's. They are in your cell phones, they are in your dashboard, or in displays at sporting events or even architectural lighting. But increasingly LED's are finding their way into white lighting like flashlights, and street lamps and even indoor lighting.
JOHN EDMOND, CO-FOUNDER, CREE: This is our display room. Everything in here is lit with LED's. There's no incandescents or fluorescents.
ERICK SCHONFELD: So what's the main advantage of LED's versus other types of lighting?
JOHN EDMOND: The first thing is they last for twenty years, a lifetime, as opposed to uh light bulbs which go out about every six months. The other advantage is about one sixth to one seventh the power consumption.
The cost is still much higher per lumen than incandescents. But LED's are coming into their own. It's becoming economically feasible. This is for parking lot lighting.
ERICK SCHONFELD: And the city of Raleigh is converting all of its parking garages and outdoor lights and street lamps to LED's?
JOHN EDMOND: That is correct.
ERICK SCHONFELD: And that is what is so disruptive about this technology.
CHARLES MEEKER, MAYOR RALEIGH, NC: On the parking decks we have a pilot project in place. The initial results show a 40 percent energy reduction. We spend $3 or $4 million a year, so your savings could be hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Perhaps a million or more.
JOHN EDMOND: They're going to replace incandescents. They're going to replace fluorescents. But we got some leap frog technology I want to show you over here that's very exciting.
JOHN PALMOUR, CO-FOUNDER, CREE: What we have here is a red, green and blue lighting source as opposed to the LED's that John was showing you where it's a fixed color.
We can make any color we want including white, which is where we're at now. But you could go all red, green, blue. Or you can go anywhere on this color index.
ERICK SCHONFELD: So what's the most disruptive thing about LED lights?
JOHN PALMOUR: Basically if you get something hot enough it will also give off light. The LED lighting is a fundamental change in that i's just emitting photons, it's just emitting light without the associated heat.
What that translates to economically is that you're not paying the energy to get everything very, very hot. You're just paying for the emission of the light.
ERICK SCHONFELD: When is it going to actually replace an incandescent bulb?
JOHN EDMOND: It's happening now. I'm putting it in my house today.
ERICK SCHONFELD: For how much?
JOHN EDMOND: About fifty dollars.
RICK SCHONFELD: Are you on a technology curve where that price is going to go down?
JOHN EDMOND: Absolutely. It's going to come down, it's going to come down fast. The more people use, the more we make, the more the price comes down.