Last fall the 2014 Nobel Prize in physics went to two Japanese and one American researcher for their invention—in the early 1990s—of a blue light-emitting diode (LED). So what was the big deal? The first red LED appeared way back in 1962, after all, and its green counterpart, some years later.
But as the Nobel panel explained, with blue it was now possible to combine all three shades of visible electricity to create white light. In terms of efficiency, it’s proven to be a breakthrough. An LED light can create the same level of brightness as an incandescent bulb with only one-twentieth of the electricity.
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Now, this looks like an especially timely development. The government of Canada, like that of many other nations, has banned the production and importation of incandescent bulbs of 40 watts or more as of January 1 this year.
LED bulbs, meanwhile, have plunged in price over the last five years, to between $10 and $25 per unit. McKinsey & Co. predicts they will account for 60% of the global lighting market as early as 2020. A few Canadian companies are taking advantage of this shift to LEDs—a change that could affect how your office is styled.
The bulb market is dominated by traditional manufacturers like Osram Sylvania, Philips, Noma and GE. But more specific solutions are coming from the likes of Montreal-based Lumenpulse, which staged a $100-million initial public offering last year. Despite supply chain and manufacturing glitches, the company boosted revenues 68% year-over-year in its latest quarter, to $25.6 million. Lumenpulse’s systems illuminate such landmarks as the Shard office tower in London and the renovated B.C. Place Stadium in Vancouver.
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LED will change what we light and how brightly, says Lumenpulse vice-president, investor relations Yvon Roy. The all-or-nothing nature of fluorescents means many office spaces and hallways typically are brighter than they need to be; in the future they will be lit less obtrusively.
At the same time, LED’s longevity and low power consumption are making it possible to light outdoor structures, such as building facades and bridges, that used to be dark. “It would be unthinkable to build a bridge without lighting the structure today,” Roy says. In this way, like mobile phones, LEDs will change the way we live, he predicts.
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Another LED product with no precedent is the Light Sheet invented by Vancouver-based Cooledge Lighting. Cooledge, which recently received an $18-million financing from investors including the venture capital arm of GE, has come up with flexible sheets of LEDs capable of being wrapped around walls and ceilings, and can even be integrated into curtains to provide super-efficient ambient lighting.
Instead of bright, buzzing fluorescent tubes, “You can have a nice, glowing ceiling that gives you the right amount of light in your office,” says CEO Wade Sheen. “We’re so used to seeing hanging fixtures, or ones bolted to the wall. More and more we’re getting requests where people want light sources to be hidden from view. You don’t know where the light’s coming from. It’s just lit.”
Some of the early adopters of the Light Sheet have been high-end retailers seeking a distinctive look, such as Coach, Chanel, Polo Ralph Lauren and Harley-Davidson. Cooledge had $2 million in sales last year, Sheen says, but “We’ve already shipped well over that in the first two months of 2015. If we stopped business right now we would still show growth in 2015 over 2014.”
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