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Philips Betting On LED Lights

 Posted by on August 6, 2008
Aug 062008

By John DeFore

An item in the New York Times last week served as a good wrap-up of recent developments on the LED front, finding places (beyond traffic lights) where light emitting diodes are getting a toehold as replacements for less energy-efficient lights.

But does it, in newspaper terms, “bury the lead”? Readers who have been led in recent years to think of compact fluorescents as the next phase for common household lighting — and to think of LEDs as specialty items — might perk up at a quote thrown in near the end of the article. There, Kaj den Daas, chairman and C.E.O. of light bulb giant Philips Lighting, declares “we are not spending one dollar on research and development for compact fluorescents.”

Really!? Are CFLs dead before they’re fully accepted — old news while green prophets are still hailing them as one of the main eco-friendly steps every household should take?

While not every expert shares this opinion — the paper cites a Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute scholar who thinks much of the LED talk “is hype” — others appear to feel that the color-spectrum issues and mercury content of today’s CFL will be enough of a road block to let the still very expensive LED catch up. We confirmed this with Philips, whose Felicia Spagnoli (a communications manager in the solid-state lighting division) says “in the past two years alone Philips has spent $4.2 billion on lighting-related acquisitions, all intended to bolster competency in LED lighting” — and that dollar amount doesn’t include staff and resources that have been moved from work on conventional lamps to LED projects.

Spagnoli reports that, despite the well publicized downturn in housing, “Philips Lighting grew 19%” in the second quarter of this year compared to the same period last year, a result the company attributes mainly to LED growth. Furthermore, the company is looking forward to introducing new products to the United States, like the changeable Living Colors fixture (a “mood lamp,” to hear some describe it), that are already available elsewhere.

Most important, she notes that the Department of Energy is helping fund a Philips replacement for 60-watt incandescent bulbs. “With an ultimate performance target of 80 lumens per watt, the fully realized lamp would meet or exceed the efficacy of a majority of conventional light sources.”

Yes: When that bulb arrives, it will cost more than a traditional monofilament — but the company clearly believes it can explain the long-term financial and ecological benefits well enough to sell rings around those curly fluorescents.

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