Has LED technology been mimicking other light sources for too long?

For some years now the quest for greater energy efficiency in lighting has been pinning its hopes on LEDs. Changes in legislation and technical development has perpetuated this need and consequently the market is now full of LED lamps that range from retro-fit versions of the humble GLS, to alternatives to the (pretty efficient) T5 linear fluorescent.

In the majority of instances LED and lamp manufacturers (it should be noted that LED chip manufacturers do not necessarily manufacture the LED Lamp as a package) have strived to create the perfect mimic of the best examples of current and past lamp technology. I wonder whether that really unlocks the true potential of LEDs, to always copy and emulate rather than stand alone; imitation rather than innovation.

For us lighting designers one of the most novel uses of LED in recent years, that would have been possible with older technology, is the use of linear LEDs within coves, shelving and backlighting.  If the details are correct and the installation is professional, a wonderful looking, long life, energy efficient installation can be achieved. Effect lighting with colour change is another area where LEDs excel and through sophisticated controls interesting, dynamic installations can be achieved.

However, I can’t help but feel that LED is still “The Great Pretender”.  I don’t mean that it falls short of the greats. I mean that maybe it’s time for LED to find its own place in the world, to carve a niche as a new light source; for lighting designers to innovate and utilise LEDs differently to traditional light sources.

I would also argue that it’s also the fault of luminaire manufacturers who seem to have done very little to innovate in terms of product design. Instead we see LEDs simply fitted into standard downlight or track spots over and over again. LED is a completely different form factor so why such a dearth of product innovation.

LED technology has so much potential that we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg and many manufacturers are currently going after the lucrative residential market where retro-fit solutions seem to dominate. Perhaps we need this to reach saturation before they look elsewhere?

I do still find myself pining for the old incandescent lamp, not just because of its beautiful quality of light (that no LED has been able to replicate) but because I wonder whether we ever pushed lamp manufacturers to maximize the energy efficiency from such sources.

So what is the full potential of LED lighting? I think we’ve yet to find it but it seems there is a long road of innovation ahead!

Blog post by Daniel Gray