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History of the LED & Markets


Modern LEDs were invented in the early 1960s, but were limited in use.  The early low intensity little red lights were employed as indicator lights on industrial equipment.  As costs declined, they could be increasingly found in consumer electronics like clocks, watches, calculators and toys.


The HB-LED (high brightness LED) market began in the 1990s with engineering advances that enabled the manufacture of efficient blue LEDs.  The first widely deployed application of the HB-LED was as backlighting for mobile phone small form screens and keypads.  As technology improved, the LED was able to address larger displays in newer cell phones sporting larger screens in the 2000s to laptop computers, then later in the decade the larger displays of smartphones, netbooks, early flat screen TVs and large displays such as advertising signage.  Now, LEDs are found in stadium advertising and large screen displays, a new generation of flat screen displays and the latest consumer electronics including tablet computers.


In the mid 2000s, the automotive industry began to see advantages to lighting with LEDs including the small form factor and energy efficiencies. Automakers like Audi began using LEDs in headlights.  By 2011, Nissan decided to deploy LEDs for headlights electric-powered Nissan Leaf in an effort to cut down headlight power consumption to 14 Watts in a year.  This could save up to 9 gallons of gasoline in a year.


The next great killer application for LEDs will be general illumination.  Energy efficiency has been a primary driver for the market.  Government entities worldwide have enacted regulations on general lighting like the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 in the US that phases in requirements that all light bulbs manufactured domestically, or imported from overseas, must be at least 25 percent more efficient (as compared to the average efficiency of incandescent bulbs). Other governments such as the European Union, Brazil, Venezuela, Australia, and Russia have also legislated the switch from traditional incandescent lighting. 


Navigant Consulting offered the best evidence for the need to reduce LED costs.  According to the Navigant report published in February 2010 on the energy-saving potential of solid state lighting (SSL) in general illumination applications, Navigant concluded that by 2030, LED lighting would deliver annual savings of 190 terawatt-hour (TWh) in the US (compared with a reference, non-SSL scenario).


LED-based lighting and other energy efficient alternatives such as CFL’s (Compact Fluorescent Lights) have become more and more attractive.  However, there are several advantages to LED over CFL lighting.  While more expensive, LED bulbs are cleaner and are about 80 percent more efficient than typical incandescent light bulbs and can last about 50,000 hours.  Additionally, the less expensive CFLs contain mercury.


While expensive, residential LED lighting is becoming more affordable.  Retailer Home Depot is committed to selling LED light bulbs for around $20.  According to Home Depot, it now offers a proprietary brand of LEDs under the EcoSmart name, including a bulb that retails for $19.97 offering 429 lumen (equivalent to a 40W incandescent) with a 50,000 hour expected lifetime.


The LED lighting market is the holy grail of the LED market.  According to research firm Yole Developpement, the LED industry grew by almost 75% in 2010. The latest analysis from IMS Research in 2011, reports that the world lighting market was worth $83 billion in 2010, with lamps making up 24% of the total.  By 2015, IMS expects that the lighting market will be valued at $115 billion, with lamps making up 33%. 


IMS Research Lighting Market Analyst, Philip Smallwood states that “Growth is stemming from advancements in LEDs which are increasing their efficiency, while decreasing their overall price. Currently, LEDs make up 10% of the total lighting market ($US), but by 2015, this is expected to increase to 46%.”