History repeats itself

The first electric lighting seen in Europe – that used carbon arc lamps known as Yablochkov candles – was installed at the Grands Magasins du Louvre in Paris in 1875.

It was by all accounts a grand affair, designed to demonstrate the technology and impress the populace. But equally significantly, it was a way for the emerging electricity companies to tell the gas companies that their days were numbered.

That event sprung to mind when I found myself at the Louvre in Paris last month watching the switch-on of a showpiece lighting scheme that uses the latest technology. This time it was an LED installation at the famous glass pyramid by architect IM Pei.

Significantly, the guy doing the switching in front of 350 of Europe’s most senior lighting customers was Toshiba president Norio Sasaki.

The Japanese laptops-to-TVs giant was making a statement to the European lighting industry and, more speci cally, the Big Three companies that have dominated the lighting business in Europe since the war. And that statement to Philips, Osram and GE read to me like: ‘We have just parked our tanks on your lawn.’

Toshiba is just the first stormtrooper in an Asian invasion that includes LG, Mitsubishi Chemical (under the Verbatim brand), Sharp and Samsung.

The most significant of these is the latter. Make no mistake, Samsung is the company that the big boys fear, because if it does to the lighting market what it did to the television market in the past decade, then we are in for a stormy ride.

So are we about the witness a Gotterdammerung in the lighting business? Not if the major manufacturers adjust their strategy to deal with the new landscape. And they are all doing that, to a greater or lesser extent.

This is significant for those who buy lighting because it means prices will start to fall, and may fall dramatically.

Also, LEDs will come to dominate the lighting sector faster than we have anticipated. Indeed, Toshiba is predicting that they will account for 70 per cent of the market by 2020.

This is not a counsel to wait for LED technology to develop and for prices to fall. You wouldn’t forgo the benefits of computers and phones by waiting, would you? The benefits of LEDs – low maintenance, long life and efficiency – can be realised today.

So go on, make your own history.

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