A study from the Department of Energy compared the claims of LED downlights from four undisclosed manufacturers. (See article in EERE Network News) Although there is no question that individual LEDs perform better in terms of light emitted per watt, these downlights which incorporated them actually performed worse than fluorescents.
LEDs are one aspect of energy efficiency that I think has a ton of potential, mainly because people aren’t nearly as excited about them as they are about renewable energy. I think LEDs are much closer to being truly economic without subsidies than is PV, and the fact that they don’t get nearly as many subsidies, and have to stand on their own makes for much healthier companies.
In combination with photovoltaics, they are already economic in off grid outdoor lighting applications such as those solar garden lights we started seeing a few years ago. They are also in use in many bus and train shelters… as well as flashlights, traffic signs, and stoplights(which are on so much they don’t have to be off-grid. They also take advantage of the fact that LEDs are much better for color than white light.)
And, ‘Tis the season, so we shouldn’t forget about LED Christmas lights!
But even in the most economic sectors, there are always hiccups when developing new technology, and it’s often the problems no one thought to anticipate. That’s why it’s important to diversify, and only invest cautiously in new technology. There are at least ten public companies I know of working on LEDs in one form or another… and some will inevitably fail, either in commercialization, or in cut-throat competition. China is producing a lot of cheap LEDs now, which has caused problems for a lot of domestic LED companies.
In short, while I’m as bullish about LEDs as any other clean energy technology I can think of, it’s worth using the opportunity of studies like this one out of DOE to remind ourselves that there will be inevitable bumps along the way.
1/4/7: I just ran across a very interesting survey on Treehugger (via EcoGeek) on the lumens/watt of all sorts of electrical lighting. Turns out that the best light depends on your application, and neither CFLs nor LEDs are the most energy efficient forms of lighting out there… they’re not even second. I won’t spoil it, take the quiz, and read some intersting comments after.