Solar-powered outdoor LED light
Solar-powered outdoor LED light


Solid state lighting has the potential to dramatically reduce California's electricity consumption - when the technology is fully mature, it will produce seven times as much light as a traditional incandescent bulbs of the same wattage. With lighting representing 22% of home electricity use and 36% of commercial electricity use, this is a huge opportunity.

But the benefits of solid state lighting are not limited to energy savings. With the potential to last 50 to 100 times longer than incandescents, solid state lighting can go 15 or 20 years without requiring bulb replacement. This can be particularly important for hard-to-access commercial and industrial lighting. It is also important for applications like traffic lights, where failure can cause significant disruption.

Additionally, for portable electronics such as laptop computers, the lower power consumption of solid state lighting translates to significantly longer battery life. The long battery life is also a great benefit in applications like flashlights, where long life in an emergency can be of critical importance.

While solid state lighting may still be a novelty today, this is a technology that is rapidly increasing in efficacy and affordability. The light output from an LED has increased by a factor of twenty every decade for the past 40 years, while the cost per unit of light output has decreased ten-fold each decade, a phenomenon referred to as Haitz's Law, after the Hewlett-Packard engineer who first observed the trend. In fact, Philips Lighting, one of the three largest lighting manufacturers in North America, is so convinced of this technology's potential that it anticipates that solid state lighting will account for 20% of the company's professional lighting revenues by 2010.

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The Marcus Center at Night
Building Exteriors

Because of solid state lighting's flexibility and durability, artists and architects are increasingly using this technology to light building exteriors.

The Marcus Center for the Performing Arts completed its lighting renovation, shown to the right, in April 2008. The renovation showcases the center as a Milwaukee landmark, and is inspired by the smooth color transitions of renowned local artist Georgia O'Keefe.

The colors constantly blend and change, a feature that is enabled by the choice of solid state lighting, which is easy to control with a computer program.

Another advantage of the LED lighting is the ease of maintenance. Paul Gregory, the president of Focus Lighting and the designer of this "Light Art" installation, states that the lighting "will require no maintenance for 15 years." He adds, "that's a dream for a lighting designer."

More and more buildings and art installations are following the Marcus Center's example. The Empire State Building, for example, will soon be adopting LED lighting for its exterior, and the New Year's Eve ball in Times Square is now lit by LEDs.

Street and Parking Lot Lighting

LED parking lot and street lights are a rapidly emerging solid state lighting application. Leading the way, in February 2009 the City of Los Angeles announced a partnership with the Clinton Climate Initiative (CCI) to replace 140,000 street lights with LED fixtures over the next five years.

The new lights will use 40 to 50 percent less electricity than the city's existing street lights, which currently cost the city $15 million per year to operate. Plus, the lights will last two to three times longer than traditional lights, saving on maintenance costs. LED lights are also more desirable for residents - they increase visibility for drivers and pedestrians, provide more aesthetically pleasing light, and provide a greater sense of safety due to more even light distribution, better color, and greater reliability.

The capital cost for the replacement is financed by a seven year loan from CCI, which will be entirely paid for through the new street lights' energy and maintenance savings, while still saving taxpayers $48 million over the loan period. The LED street lights will save the City of Los Angeles $10 million per year thereafter, and will reduce carbon (CO2) emissions by 40,500 tons per year - equivalent to taking 6,700 cars off the road.

Building off of this success, the Clinton Climate Initiative is expanding to work with other cities on similar street lighting projects. With the Next Generation Lighting Industry Alliance projecting that LED lights will reach first-cost parity with traditional high intensity discharge lights by 2015, the savings will only get better.


Photo credit: US Department of Energy

Traffic Lights in California

One early LED success has been in traffic lights. Because LEDs produce red, yellow, and green light directly, no filter is required, so LED traffic signals require only 10% as much energy as incandescents.

Equally important, LED traffic lights can last up to ten years, compared to only two years for incandescents, reducing the need to close down intersections for maintenance. And when they do fail, they do so gradually, so failures are not dangerous and repairs are not urgent. This results in less traffic congestion, reduced maintenance costs, and less strain on a municipality's workforce.

Another critical advantage is that their low power consumption allows LED traffic lights to be run off of backup batteries for two hours or more. In the event of a power outage or natural disaster, this feature helps maintain order as the city works to respond.

In 2002, California established efficacy standards for new or replacement traffic signals that required the use of LEDs. Two years later, these standards were extended to pedestrian traffic signals.

In 2004, with half of vehicular and pedestrian traffic signals replaced, peak electricity demand savings were approximately 60 Megawatts statewide. Once all signals are replaced, the reduction in peak demand will reach 120 Megawatts, enough to power almost 120,000 homes.