Time to quit the propaganda

The marketing of LEDs has been characterised by overselling and propaganda. The time has now come for manufacturers to take a more responsible approach

Overselling and over-claiming has been rife in the industry since Thomas Edison employed similar tactics to get electrical lighting and power distribution established on his terms. But LED makers suggest that all other lighting technologies are effectively obsolete in comparison with the LED ‘miracle’ light source, or at least should be.

For instance, the manufacture and raw materials used in LEDs are far from clean processes. There has been much recent discussion on rare earths – the very specialist materials used in LEDs, other electronics and as phosphors for fluorescent and LED light sources.

The demand for these is causing lots of new and dirty mining and refining operations, mostly in China, where environmental concern and control is a lot less rigorous than elsewhere in the world.

We have all accepted that LEDs are a ‘more expensive’ light source and we have been given many explanations and fanciful calculations illustrating that despite the high initial cost, the lifetime costs are comparable – or less – than other light sources. In reality, the high initial cost is the sole significant barrier to wider-spread adoption of LED.

There is also constant warring between companies on minutiae of intellectual property. This has bloated the share value of many companies allowing for profitable sell-ons. Vast sums have also been paid to lawyers. Inevitably, these costs are inflating the cost of LEDs in the market.

Some of this intellectual property is quite suspect and is used by big players to restrict market entry to smaller companies, sometimes through extortionate royalties. Edison was also a past master at this. However, he did end up partnering, among others, Joseph Swan, to share patent rights.

The lighting industry is being effectively hoodwinked by the propaganda departments (you can hardly call this marketing anymore) of the LED majors. Since the beginning of the LED entry into the lighting market, which I would date back to 1997 or 1998, we have seen claims for product longevity (100,000 hours), energy efficiency (better than 100 lumen per watt) and appropriateness for applications (equivalent output to MR16 50W) that are egregious.

There remain in the industry persistent misleading measurements such as quoting LED performance at 25°C rather than real operating temperatures, and claims for operating life extrapolated from relatively short-term tests.

The claims for lower cost over life are also based on unreasonable expectations of perfect operating environments and unspecified regular maintenance, not the least of which is regular cleaning of lenses and heat sinks.

LEDs are earning a place in the panoply of light sources available to the responsible lighting designer.

For some applications, they are the best technical choice, however, they may not be affordable with present pricing policies. They most certainly are not the most appropriate or even most efficient light source for most lighting tasks.

The LED propaganda machine is resulting in briefs appearing from major clients requiring all LED light sources to be used in projects where they are entirely unsuitable.

Clients have been suckered into believing that LEDs are automatically the most efficient solution. Unfortunately this is resulting in ‘flagship’ projects that are well-below the efficiency and quality of light possible with a correct balance of light sources according to application.

It really is time for a more responsible approach and honest information from the LED industry. At this time, companies that try to adhere to these principles find themselves at a competitive disadvantage. Come on LED people, quit with the propaganda and start to deliver genuine values.

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