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Since 2003, the U.S. Department of Energy has invested with industry partners in research and development of solid-state lighting (SSL)—including both light-emitting diode (LED) and organic light emitting diode (OLED) technologies. Why such concentrated attention on SSL?

The answer is simple: because of SSL's rapid ongoing improvements and superior energy-saving potential. It is estimated that switching to LED lighting over the next two decades could save the country $250 billion in energy costs over that period, reduce the electricity consumption for lighting by nearly one half, and avoid 1,800 million metric tons of carbon emission. DOE is not alone in recognizing the importance of that kind of savings; Congress recognizes it too, which is why the Energy Policy Act of 2005 mandates DOE to accelerate SSL technology.

Line graph demonstrating the increase of luminaire efficacy over time.
Source: DOE LED Lighting Facts; DOE SSL R&D Multi-Year Program Plan

That doesn't mean DOE has abandoned lighting controls and other light source technologies, however. DOE still invests to a large degree in promoting the most efficient forms of conventional lighting technologies, through such implementation programs as Building America, the Commercial Buildings Integration Program, and the Federal Energy Management Program.

Avoiding the Roadblocks

DOE is keeping a close watch on solid-state lighting, in both the lab and the marketplace, to make sure it doesn't run into the same roadblocks that slowed market acceptance of compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) back in the 1990s. Accelerating the pace of commercialization for SSL will hinge on improving cost competitiveness and quality.

  • Improving cost competitiveness. One major roadblock for SSL is cost. Today, the purchase price of LED lighting products is generally higher than that of their conventional counterparts, often by a long shot, and the energy savings often aren't enough to offset the difference within an attractive payback period. However, DOE's program is intended to drive aggressive cost reduction, and the current rate of cost decline in LED lighting systems is about 20 percent a year. Prices will continue to drop before starting to level off.
  • Improving quality. DOE watches closely for problems with poor-performing SSL products that are not yet ready to compete with incumbent technologies, including products that fail to meet manufacturers' performance claims. A significant part of DOE's function is to educate consumers as well as the lighting community about those claims and other pitfalls in the SSL marketplace. As a government agency serving all U.S. citizens, DOE brings a "just the facts" attitude and an independent, vendor-neutral perspective to solid-state lighting, which is why so many people look to DOE for honest, reliable information.

There's little doubt that solid-state lighting ultimately will emerge as the technology of choice for an unparalleled variety of applications, because, all things being equal, everyone—building owners included—wants to save energy and protect the environment. Meanwhile, all things are not equal, which is why DOE repeatedly emphasizes that SSL is right for some applications but not for others—and why education and due diligence should be key elements in any lighting specification and purchasing process.

A Comprehensive Program

DOE has made a long-term commitment to advance the development and market introduction of energy-efficient solid-state lighting. Its comprehensive national program addresses research and development, demonstrations, testing and quality control, market development support, and buyer support—all in service of maximizing the energy-efficiency of SSL products in the marketplace.

With two annual workshops that collectively bring together approximately 500 attendees, as well as periodic stakeholder roundtables, DOE's solid-state lighting program is open and participatory and coordinates with many lighting and standards groups, such as the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America, the International Association of Lighting Designers, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, the American National Standards Institute, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. It's also highly transparent, publishing numerous reports and roadmaps that are posted online at this website.