LED history book chronicles light's past and future

-November 29, 2017


 LED: A history of the future of lighting

LED: A history of the future of lighting by Bob Johnstone. ISBN 9781546737421, 2017, 329 pages. Price $17.94. Available through Amazon.

When my home was renovated in 2011, the contractor's electrician installed incandescent lighting throughout. And why not? They were the least expensive bulbs available at that time and were easily available. Soon after, I replaced the bulbs that get significant use with LEDs. Today, LEDs seem to be everywhere, both indoors and out.

Solid-state lighting has come a long way, both in terms of technology and in acceptance. Starting with the promise of reducing energy costs, LEDs are now breaking into new uses such as large displays that enhance our experiences and even into light-based communications. Bob Johnstone, a journalist who has been covering LEDs for over 35 years, has documented the rise of LED lighting. This book is his second on LEDs, following Brilliant in 2007.

There's more to LED lighting than semiconductor physics and LED drive circuits. Indeed, Johnstone doesn't cover what makes LEDs work. Rather, he looks at how people use them. He delves into marketing, business, energy conservation, building construction, and political issues that surround shifting of the ways we produce and use lighting.

As with the introduction of any new and potentially disruptive technology, there will be initial resistance. That came from the large light-bulb manufacturers who wanted to protect their cash-cow incandescent bulb businesses. Such resistance was short lived, as bulb giants Philips and GE saw the vast opportunities for profit in LEDs. Of course, there are many startups as well. (It's worth noting that GE is now exiting the lighting business altogether.) As Johnstone's back cover says, "Goodbye Thomas Edison, Hello Mr. Chips."

Politics in lighting? Wherever public money is involved, politics is close at hand. That's what Johnstone covered when solid-state lighting showed promise in reducing energy costs and lowering carbon emissions by reducing energy consumption in street lighting. Politicians in energy-producing states resisted the move to LEDs for, well, political reasons. Fortunately, LED lighting has taken hold in spite of them.

Resistance to LEDs, writes Johnstone, came from manufacturers of lighting fixtures, an industry that had not changed in 100 years. Many fixture makers were, as Johnstone noted, "metal benders" who had never employed electrical engineers, but now do. Other resistance came from building contractors, who didn't understand when lighting designers started looking at lighting as more than simply getting light to an area. Lighting designers came to realize that, because LEDs could come in different colors and could change color, they could be used to soften the harsh lighting in offices and simulate sunlight throughout the day. My father would have benefited from that; in winter, he could go an entire work week without seeing sunlight because of his work hours and windowless office. Johnstone notes that research into simulating sunlight and how it affects circadian rhythms is ongoing, for the spectrum of sunlight changes with latitude and time of day.

high intensity LED
A blue high-intensity, powered by a 9 V battery, illuminates a painting, bringing out the blue tones.

LEDs for lighting are becoming a commodity and many low-cost Chinese manufacturers are pushing the original innovators, especially in consumer products, to exit the lighting business. There's also the issue of LED's long life, which means fewer replacements than with incandescent or even CFL bulbs. Many of the small original innovators have been acquired, either by the larger producers such as Philips—as was startup Color Kinetics in 2007— or by Chinese manufacturers, as was the case with Luminus Devices. While this may be a bad thing for some, the continued acceptance of LED lighting and it's low energy consumption benefits us all.

Reading LED: A history of the future of lighting will certainly give you something to think about. You'll see that the LEDs have and will continue to change the way we illuminate. If there's one improvement Johnstone needs with his book, it's the lack of editing. The book is, after all, self-published. I've seen such grammatical errors in other self-published books. Johnstone needs an editor who better knows how and where to use commas. In some cases, a lack of a comma changed the meaning of a sentence. Johnstone also needs to work on his spelling because in several instances, he refers to "Pittsburg" Pennsylvania. If you put the editing errors aside, you'll learn all about where LED lighting has gone and where it might go.

Martin Rowe covers test and measurement for EDN and EE Times. Contact him at martin.rowe@aspencore.com Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn page

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