Seeing the Light with LEDs

Thursday, July 8, 2004

Today's Trend: Light-emitting diodes (LEDs), ubiquitous in digital displays, are now illuminating dozens of new markets, with Business Communications Company predicting the market will increase 19% over the next five years.

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Why: LEDs use only 10% of the electricity of traditional light bulbs and have six times the lifespan. After the summer of 2003 blackout, everyone is "grid" conscious, and "anything that uses less energy is going to crash this market," says Find/SVP's Industrial Products Consultant Ann Romeo. Most importantly, new technologies have enabled the creation of softer white light, opening up the home lighting market.

Opportunity: GE's (nyse: GE - news - people ) old slogan, "we bring good things to light," is taking on a whole new glow as the Edison-based giant goes head to head with LED start-ups such as Carmanah Technologies for a range of applications that include automotive, marine, rail, aviation and transit systems (because LEDs emit very little heat, they can be housed in resilient plastic). The car industry is the current 'driver,' but "I think this will change home decorating," declares Romeo. Not only more cost efficient than traditional lighting, LEDs come in an increasingly wide array of colors, and can be attached to any surface, opening up a range of scenic possibilities for architects and designers. And vendors can partner with utilities to get the word out.

Danger: 100 to 1. While LEDs are cheaper to operate, at $100 per unit, they are expensive to install--sticker shock for homeowners used to paying $1 for a light bulb. The industry is looking for auto sales to bring the price down, and marketers can help create a more luminous image for a technology most people still associate with their computer screens.