Commentary: SSL industry activity fans the flame in a simmering summer (MAGAZINE)

The summer of 2011 was a hot one in the LED market. Between the L Prize and Cree's acquisition of Ruud Lighting, the usually quiet summer instead contained a boatload of market activity.

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This article was published in the September 2011 issue of LEDs Magazine.

View the Table of Contents and download the PDF file of the complete September 2011 issue.

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Summer is supposed to be down time, right? We expected that but got a boatload of activity in the LED-based solid-state-lighting (SSL) industry. A major acquisition, activity in the US legislature, and the coronation of the US Department of Energy (DOE) L-Prize winner have stoked the fire recently. And we have a bit of all of the above in this issue.

Let’s start with the DOE Bright Tomorrow Lighting Prize (L Prize). Launched in 2008, the program sought to spur SSL innovation to both reduce US energy usage attributable to lighting and to help build an SSL industry in the US. Philips was the only entrant. Still, the company developed what the DOE clearly considers an extraordinary lamp (p.9 and p.21). The DOE’s Jim Brodrick went so far as to suggest that the lamp might be suitable for military applications.

In the business sector, LED-maker Cree rocked the SSL segment by purchasing Ruud Lighting and its BetaLED brand (p.19). The two had long been allies with BetaLED using Cree LEDs in a growing family of SSL products. BetaLED has especially prospered in the outdoor-lighting market in street lights and other area-lighting applications. Our cover photo of the San Francisco International Airport is an ongoing SSL project in which BetaLED is involved.

Cree had already entered the system side of the lighting business with the purchase of LED Lighting Fixtures (LLF) Inc back in 2008. But the company has publicly tempered its aspirations in the general-lighting business, repeatedly insisting that its system business was simply focused on symbiotically moving the SSL industry forward, thereby increasing component sales.

Now Cree owns arguably the top dog in the SSL lighting-system industry, especially in outdoor applications, and will find itself in direct competition with other top luminaire makers who are component customers. The company believes the move will accelerate SSL adoption. But surely some customers will see it differently as they compete with a potential supplier.

Action in the courts and financial markets has also been hot throughout this sweltering summer. Osram has bickered publicly with LG and Samsung over intellectual property issues (p.12). In addition, the planned Osram initial public offering may or may not happen given a shaky global economy and slower-than-expected SSL business climate (p.9).

The US legislature, meanwhile, may have boosted the SSL industry by voting not to invalidate prior legislation that mandates mo-efficient lighting (p.10). The H. R. 2417 bill sought to eliminate energy-efficiency requirements that essentially remove incandescent bulbs as an option for general lighting. The US will move into next year with CFL and LED options for 100W-incandescent-replacement applications.

But the fluorescent market is anything other than business as usual. China continues to try and monopolize its supply of rare-earth elements that are a key enabling component of phosphors in lighting (p.16). The move appears to have impacted the fluorescent-lighting business more so than LEDs, although LEDs targeted at lighting also utilize phosphor to convert blue light into white.

Wow what a summer and now we’re headed to a very busy fall. We hope to see you at the Strategies in Light conferences in Japan and Europe. And we’ll have a report on the annual IES Street and Area Lighting Conference in New Orleans for you in the next issue.

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