LEDs Are Lighting the Way to Better Illumination Source

Monday, June 27, 2005

Once used only in computers and other electronics, light emitting diodes are gaining ground as efficient and long-lasting sources of illumination.

And as the tiny, solid state lights begin to gain wider acceptance, Canadian companies are helping lead the way.

"You will not be able to not see them in about 10 years. They are really going to knock a lot of other lighting products out of the box," said Art Aylesworth, chief executive of Victoria-based Carmanah Technologies Corp.

"A really good lightbulb might have a couple of thousand of hours of life, an LED, and people will debate this number, but you'll hear up to 100,000 hours."

Earlier this month, Carmanah, which has installed systems in about 90 cities, announced a sale of 225 units of its solar-powered bus shelter lighting systems to Vancouver.

Carmanah's technology uses one-tenth the energy of incandescent bulbs, and the solar system allows the shelters to be installed without external wiring. Once installed, the shelters draw all the energy they need to illuminate advertising panels and street signs from the sun.

"We were doing an awful lot of the missionary work as this was getting some lift and I think the lift is just strengthening as we've sort of proved ourselves during all the trials," Aylesworth said.

"Right now, it feels like everything is falling into place for us... Last year we were a $16-million company and next year we will be more like a $60 million."

While widely used in electronics for many years, LEDs have only just started to find new applications in the broader market. And with much lower power consumption than traditional incandescent bulbs, LEDs are being promoted as a way to reduce the amount of electricity needed and, indirectly, greenhouse gases.

"The awareness of the need for environmental and alternative energy technology is on the rise. It is becoming pretty mainstream. You can almost stop anyone on the street and they will have an opinion whereas 10 years ago they wouldn't know what you were talking about," Aylesworth said.

Vancouver-based TIR Systems Ltd. estimated the use of its LED lighting technology in the signage at BP gas stations that replaced high-voltage neon lighting saves five kilowatts for each of the more than 5,000 stations around the world where the switch was made.

"That's a small town," Brent York, TIR's chief technology officer, said of the total energy savings from the switch to LEDs.

And York explained improvements in LED technology are accelerating.

"It's like Moore's law has suddenly popped up on the radar screen of lighting," York said in reference to the predicted exponential growth in the number of transistors on computer chips.