Editorials

Where are the LEDs?

Our news editor, Scott McMahan, evaluates what’s actually available to the general public in LED-based residential lighting these days, and reports his findings in this guest editorial. JMcD

In my recent attempt to see how widespread LEDs for general lighting have actually penetrated the marketplace at this stage of their rollout, I visited
all the local stores in my area in Austin, Texas where I thought I might find LED-based products. I chose: Super Wal-Mart,
HEB a grocery store chain which has expanded to include department store items, and
Loews building supply and Home Depot, two large chains devoted to products for individuals wanting
to do home projects themselves. The results were quite disappointing.

The only LEDs-based products I found were not for general lighting. They were merely
decorative lights designed to look like candles, which I found at Home Depot.
That particular store had several different LED fixtures for general lighting on their
website. However, one of their many usually knowledgeable workers, said, “I’m sorry I simply don’t know enough to help you with that.”
I continued the hunt by myself down the long isles devoted to lighting.
They sold incandescent, halogen, and fluorescent lights of most every variety,
but there was only one LED light set, which was designed to look like candles. They did
have “rope lights” that appeared to be LED-based, but upon closer inspection,
they were not.

Luxeon High Power

Online, Home Depot (search for LED)
offers some LED-based lighting fixtures for outdoor lighting. There was also
a 120V LED light fixture in the form of a bulb with 35 LEDs. These were all
made by a company called Hampton
Bay
which makes fans and mostly conventional lighting. To be fair, Jo Ann
reported that her local Walmart carried LED “fairy lights” last Christmas (Ref: editorial) and she recently found a set of four solar powered garden white LED “coach lights” by Brinkmann at her rural Walmart in Central Texas for about $18, but that was it. The Brinkmann product has a notice that the product was made in China and carried the notice that it was “protected by US-Pat. No US D492,437.”
However, I was not able to find either LED fairy lights or coach lights at my local Super Walmart. My local Super Walmart does offer some LED-based products including personal reading lights and nightlights, and Jo Ann has also found a variety of single white LED-based reading lights for individuals reading books in bed at her local Hastings bookstore, yet another fairly large chain. In our opinion, these token entries aren’t yet general lighting products, but they’re a start.

While a number of companies have released LED fixtures for general lighting,
they obviously aren’t widely available to general consumers yet. What’s more, I found that people still have considerably less understanding of LED lighting than the companies that sell to the public.
What those companies are selling can indeed be can be found online, however. Dozens of different fixtures,
desk lights and lamps for indoors and outdoors are available on eBay for example. One problem
is that there are often two levels of prices for the same type of items. Desk
lamps from Hong Kong start at $15.00. Similar looking desk lamps with roughtly
the same features from Philips start at about $49.00. They each include 8 bright
white LEDs. Like the other products found in stores or online, the sellers in Hong Kong don’t indicate what company manufacturers or packages the actual lamps, which begs the question of whether or not the products are patent
compliant.

Title 24 Energy efficiency standards in California, IRS tax deductions for
energy efficient commercial buildings in the USA, and the International Energy
Agency report on the worldwide benefits off efficient lighting (Ref: Coverage)
all point towards efficient use of electricity in lighting such as using LEDs. But… LED makers have only come out with a relatively small number of products for general
residential lighting. Most of what is available is obviously targeted at the high-end construction
market such as hotels, nightclubs, pricey luxury homes and high end commercial store displays. According to some industry insiders, the prices are simply beyond what most consumers can afford in initial
cost.

The market appears to have already stocked plenty of LED flashlights, battery powered desk lamps, and car
decoration and taillights, traffic signals, and sign lighting. LED-based street lights are now plentiful, and some companies have come out with
LED landscaping lights. However, the general lighting market for inside homes still has a long way to go. At this stage, solid state lighting (SSL) appears to be generally confined to niche markets. Plug-in, AC LED products
are still relatively rare and expensive. Many in the SSL industry
want change all that.

Permlight is one such company. Working in conjuction with Progress Lighting, Permlight recently released an array
of residential lighting solutions
using their Embryten line of LED modules.
The jointly introduced products include many designs of pendant lights, recessed
trims, surface mounts, step lights, under cabinet lights, cove lighting, in
wall lights, and exterior sconces. The web site supplies a list of Permlight
certified design consultants
to help design the right residential lighting.

TIR is another company that we regularly
cover that makes end products for general lighting applications http://www.tirsys.com/products/architectural-led.htm.
Their partners are beginning to put their lexel technology advances into products
including residential lighting. (Ref: Coverage)

OptiLed
also offers a range of AC LED-based fixtures for indoors. Some are retrofitted
bulbs with arrays of LEDs and others retrofitted for halogen fixtures. They
sell a variety of accent lighting solutions too. These are in addition to many
outdoor varieties. Optolum is reportedly selling well to high end retail stores and doing custom designs, but OptoLum’s CEO, Joel Dry is keeping his cards close to his chest. He did report, however, that the market for undercounter lighting for home kitchens and for bathrooms is gaining momentum, but they’re still too pricy for the general public’s pocketbook.

So LEDs appear to still be confined to retail and commercial spaces.
Hopefully this will change soon as prices start coming down and the products begin to be stocked by popular general hardware and lighting stores. One key to accellerating the market might be to concentrate on convincing hardware product manufacturers to include LEDs as part of their next gen hardware rather than battle with stand-alone lines. We’ll keep looking. –Scott McMahan

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