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US Energy Bill powers up LED lighting

A new law will help the US Department of Energy improve understanding across the solid-state lighting industry, which could bring benefits far beyond the $20M competition that will be the first outcome.

Measures that restrict the use of incandescent lighting and promise incentives for solid-state lighting technologies to take their place have become law in the US, forming an important part of the country's energy policy.

The Renewable Fuels, Consumer Protection, and Energy Efficiency Act of 2007 was signed by President Bush on December 19 and its LED-related provisions are now being enacted by the US Department of Energy (DOE).

Performance standards for general service light bulbs demand 25-30 percent energy savings compared to today's incandescent bulbs by 2012 to 2014. In the longer term a standard for 75 percent savings will come into effect in 2020, which will likely only be met by solid-state technologies.

In the shorter term, the DOE is planning “visible and large activity” surrounding the $20 million Bright Tomorrow Prizes that the act states will be given to the first LED lamps directly replacing their incandescent rivals (see related story).

“The prizes will stimulate a lot of thinking and get a lot of publicity,” said Jim Brodrick, lighting program manager at the DOE.

Eyes on the bigger prize
This incentive-focused approach typifies and intensifies the efforts that the DOE is making in order to support the LED industry in providing efficiency of illumination.

“Really the big driver is the market play,” explained Brodrick. “LED lighting will perform much better than an incandescent. The price may be high at the start, but can come down.”

“The prizes are a way of getting that rolling in a formal public way. Sure, you can legislate standards and that's fine but the market can and will take off for the LED lamps regardless.”

The competition won t officially start for at least another three months, Brodrick explained, but will eventually be launched by a high-profile US politician.

“The prize specifications are challenging, and if someone wins they will certainly merit it, and the notoriety from winning,” said Brodrick. “Everybody - from circuitry or drivers, the LED, the die-makers, the epitaxial growth - will be involved in this to actually create the winning entry.”

The prizes represent just one aspect of the DOE s efforts to draw together people involved in moving the LED lighting industry forward.

Later this month the DOE will announce the recipients of a further $20 million funding, granted in its annual solid state lighting Core Technology and Product Development programs. There is also a solid state lighting category in the DOE s annual Lighting for Tomorrow competition, which will begin again in January as well.

According to Brodrick, creating a better understanding between those involved in making fixtures is the main challenge in improving LED lighting's penetration of the general illumination market.

“Communicating well is important,” he said. “There needs to be planning and communication between semiconductor and luminaire industries to get the best performance.”

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