2020 will not be fondly remembered — what about 2021? (MAGAZINE)

Nov. 17, 2020
In looking ahead to 2021, MAURY WRIGHT provides a balanced view of the pandemic impact on LED and SSL business while finding some reason for optimism in the innovation that LED-based technologies continue to enable in advanced applications.

Happy Holidays to all you out there. I know it won’t be the normal Holiday season with a continued need for social distancing, and as I write this, the potential of more stringent isolation looms. Most of us will be happy to see the year 2020 pass, although no one can promise 2021 will be a lot better as of this writing. We need a vaccine for the pandemic and for what continues to be a somewhat infected solid-state lighting (SSL) industry.

Generally, I have used the column in our Industry Guide issue as a place to speculate or project how things might go in the LED and SSL sectors. We didn’t publish a guide on our usual schedule as we were still trying to make our way through the process of settling in with Endeavor Business Media as our new parent. I hope you in the audience will appreciate having the Industry Guide back on our editorial calendar.

We’ll discuss 2021 in just a moment, but what about 2020? The pandemic has impacted so many industries and sectors. Think about the travel sector. They have been hit far worse than lighting. The entertainment industry has been crippled. So we are in this tough march forward with a lot of company.

Looking back - Industry Guide Commentary 2019: Uncertainty looms over SSL sector, but pricing stabilizes

The lighting industry was already dealing with two major issues — tariffs and price erosion — when the pandemic hit. The impact of price erosion is easily seen. The Cree LED business just sold to Smart Global Holdings for around $300 million, and only $50 million of that price was cash up front. Cree LED was doing more than a billion in annual sales a few years back. And don’t misunderstand, more LEDs are being sold today.

So what about 2021? The LED and SSL sectors will have to deal with remnants of the pandemic even if multiple vaccines arrive for the start of the New Year. The same is true for many other sectors. The return to office work may simply not return. All of those IoT-enabled smart buildings may sit largely empty for some time. Without question, there are benefits of in-person collaboration. But there are hard costs associated with offices that may be seen as unjustifiable to many CEOs.

But the pandemic will also yield new opportunity to the LED and SSL sectors. Already germicidal ultraviolet (UV) technology is moving at a rapid pace and has spurred sales and harder work on UV-C-band (100–280-nm) LEDs. Some facilities such as schools or healthcare may have a second set of lights in every room based on non-visible UV-C sources for recurring disinfection. We will have a special report on UV-C in education settings to start off 2021 in the January/February issue.

Looking back - Industry Guide Commentary 2018: New Year will continue a remarkable technology revolution in the lighting industry

The horticultural lighting and AgTech sectors are booming. Investment dollars are flowing like crazy and not just for cannabis. See a recent article we posted on tomato greenhouses in Kentucky where one grower is raising a half billion by going public. I also believe LEDs and SSL will play a vital role in next-generation autonomous vehicles even as the existing auto market is a growing one for LED manufacturers.

So I think 2021 has the chance to be a very good year for our sectors. We will need a little luck and some of that may play out before you read this column. We will also need some hard work and innovation. But as a New Year’s wish after 2020, you can’t ask for more.

Maury Wright


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