For the past eight years, I have watched solid-state lighting make major inroads in the architectural lighting industry. It is amazing to think how far LEDs have come, from color-changing applications to white-light sources for both exterior and interior installations. I remember the buzz at Lightfair in 2005 when then-Canadian manufacturer TIR Systems introduced its Lexel platform—the first fully integrated LED source for general illumination. At the time, it seemed as if we'd have to wait for ages until market-ready specification-grade LED luminaires could serve as viable alternatives to existing sources.
Of course, solid-state lighting has largely lived up to its early promise, effectively changing the course of the lighting industry. This change has not been without its share of headaches, as manufacturers struggle to keep up with one another in developing new solutions, and designers try to stay informed about the technology.
Even though LEDs are an innovative type of light and offer great potential, they are not always likable. At times, they seem like the source that everyone loves to hate.
There are several reasons for this. First, LEDs represent a major paradigm shift for the lighting industry and design community, and adjusting to change is not always easy.
Also, the tone of the conversation surrounding LEDs has been off-putting to some. When LEDs arrived on the lighting scene, they announced themselves, basically, as the replacement for every type of existing filament lamp. Bold words for a technology that had yet to deliver any products to market.
While the intentions of most manufacturers bringing LED chips, lamps, and light fixtures to market has been good, there have been an unfortunate number of misrepresentations and false claims about some product offerings which has set the conversation back. With every false claim, there has been loss of trust within the lighting design community. Matters are beginning to turn around, slowly, thanks in part to a group of technical references such as LM-79 and LM-80 that are beginning to form a standard reference point.
But the tenor of the conversation continues to be aggravating at times, especially when LED manufacturers persist in speaking as though their products are the only viable light source on the planet. LEDs are one tool in the lighting designer's toolbox, but not the only one. If these manufacturers want to be taken seriously and be respected by the design community, then they need to be able to talk about their product and technology offerings as one piece in a larger lighting equation, but not at the expense of other sources that still work extremely well and meet project needs from an aesthetic, technical, and energy-savings perspective.
At the beginning of February, I attended the U.S. Department of Energy's Transformations in Lighting SSL R&D workshop in San Diego. It was an informative experience both in terms of what was discussed and how it was discussed. Fully aware of the purpose of the venue, I nevertheless found it disturbing to hear during several of the presentations what was, at times, very aggressive language in comparing LEDs to other types of light sources. Phrases like “declared victory” and “we've won the war” were bandied about. Last time I checked, introducing a new lighting technology had nothing, thankfully, to do with war.
As the conversation about LEDs moves forward, I hope that all members of the lighting community will be respectful of the full range of available technologies. This conversation should unite the industry and move lighting forward. It should not pit people against one another and divide our community.