LEDs are bright lights for the future

 


A few weeks ago I mentioned that lights based on light-emitting diodes (LEDs) use less energy than tungsten filament lights or fluorescent lights. LEDs also longer lasting. And, the cost of LEDs has fallen dramatically over the last 15 years, and is continuing to fall.

However, those are not the only differences between LEDs and the older technologies. LEDs offer a variety of new and improved capabilities, some of which were never practical, or indeed possible, with older lighting systems.

For instance, LED lights can be designed for comprehensive electronic control. LEDs are based on solid-state electronics and are thus extraordinarily durable. They can be dimmed, turned on and off using timers, set to change colors or even caused to blink on and off rapidly, all without any effect on the life of the lighting. Fluorescent lights usually can’t be dimmed. Tungsten filament lights can be dimmed or blinked, but repeated dimming or blinking significantly shortens their life.


Brightness is not the only measure of light quality when using LED lights. Unlike fluorescent lights, LEDs don’t flicker slowly enough for the eye to comprehend that the light is flickering. LEDs are routinely offered with different “color temperatures,” which provide similar levels of brightness with different light color qualities. When you use LEDs, you have a greater ability to choose between “warmer” light colors that emphasize the yellow and red part of the light spectrum, and “colder” colors that emphasize blues. Lights that provide color similar to daylight are readily available.


In commercial and industrial uses, lack of flicker and the ability of LEDs to produce different color temperatures can make LED lighting more comfortable for employees. The ability of LEDs to vary the color spectrum of lighting to match the human eye’s expectations for the color spectrum of morning, noon and afternoon light is gaining attention among people who study ergonomics. Indoor night shift workers have reported health improvements when working in locations that use LEDs to match the light that their eyes would see if they were working outdoor day shifts.

The individual lighting elements that comprise a LED light are very tiny. In combination with a suitable diffusing layer (usually plastic) above the actual light-emitting diodes, this offers new interior design options. LED lights can be manufactured in very complex shapes. You’ve probably already seen LEDs that look like 100-year old carbon filament light bulbs, with a coiled or twisted lighting element inside a clear glass bulb. Fixtures with twisted and coiled lights, and fixtures and lighting strips that can be programmed to change colors are also available.


A few even more advanced applications of LEDs are in the works. Operators of commercial spaces are interested in the ability to flicker LEDs, so fast that the eye can’t see the flicker, to send electronic codes that can be picked up by cell phones whose owners have agreed to accept the codes. The SeaTac airport, among others, is considering using this feature to help travelers find their way to flights.

When people hear the words “energy efficiency,” they often think of something that will save energy, but which will be somehow limiting or uncomfortable. LED lighting is the opposite – a technology that saves energy, while offering better light, new capabilities and fewer limits.


 

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