Monday, July 06, 2009

Technology substitution in lighting

Long live the CFL and death to the incandescent light bulb! Or so it seemed. Those of you who know me from my earlier work in technology forecasting (I taught many a workshop in tech forecasting not all that long ago), may recall that one of the areas we often talked about was how to model the substitution of an incumbent technology by a new or emerging technology. You may also recall that there were many examples where the incumbent technology did not go out quietly (although many did). In these cases, the presence of the emerging technology stimulated new research and advancements in the incumbent which, at a minimum, slowed the penetration of the emerging technology. An article in the July 6 edition of the New York Times presents us with an outstanding example.

Not only have the energy efficiency pundits predicted the demise of the relatively inefficient incandescent light bulb, but federal legislation had dictated that it must be so (beginning in 2012). But new research promises to give the old favorite a fighting chance, or at least the opportunity to slow its demise. Reflective coatings around the bulb's filament offer the opportunity to reflect a portion of the heat energy that would otherwise be lost back to the filament where it can be transformed to additional light. Other incremental innovations in incandescents are sure to follow. And, light emitting diodes (LEDs) are staged to begin their push into the commercial and residential markets.

It is an interesting time to be a technology watcher. We've recently seen competing audio and video technologies all vying for market dominance. Now, with new flavors of incandescent lighting, CFLs, and LEDs all vying to capture their share, energy efficiency and consumers will ultimately benefit.

1 comment:

  1. Update 10Aug2009:

    Those of you with an interest in LED lighting should read the article in the August 2009 issue of IEEE Spectrum entitled "The LED's Dark Secret." In the original blog post, we spoke about how incumbent technologies compete against a challenger, thereby extending their life at least in certain applications. But, we didn't address the issue of how those challengers ultimately overcome deficiencies that inhibit more widespread adoption. In the case of LEDs, the problem is known as droop.

    LEDs operating at low power are very efficient. But, as the IEEE article notes, "Crank up the current and [LED] efficiencies will plummet." So much so that they become less efficient than a fluorescent tube. And unfortunately, the precise cause for this is still being debated.

    So, while LEDs still promise to be one of the advanced lighting technologies of the future, we need to recognize two axioms of technological advance:

    1. Incumbent technologies will improve and compete to hold on to their share of the market.

    2. Emerging technologies always take longer to penetrate than initially envisioned, and often will do so at a lesser capability than predicted.


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