The 2012 Lighting Year began with the historic phase-out of the incandescent light bulb.

The year continued with the 50th anniversary of the light-emitting diode (LED) in October and ended in December with yet another Greatest LED.

Despite overcapacity and slim profit margins, Cree (Nasdaq: CREE) and other manufacturers bounced back to confound naysayers and short-sellers. LED streetlights began to seriously climb the S-curve of adoption. And LEDs in lighting are staging a reported 44 percent year-on-year gain, with 9.8 percent growth for LEDs overall.

Here's our 2012 LED Top Ten:

One:  The phaseout of the 100-watt incandescent nominally began on New Year’s Day (implementation funding was delayed nine months in a congressional deal). Lower wattages will get axed each year thereafter.

Two:  The 50th anniversary of the invention of the modern LED by Nick Holonyak at General Electric was observed in October. Solid-state light emission had been observed by Oleg Losev in Russia in 1927, and by H.J. Round in England as far back as 1907.

Three:  Osram announces major progress on silicon substrates in January. Potentially cheaper than sapphire, it appears possible the silicon substrates may be shipped in volume in 2013.

FourSoraa unstealths in February, revealing a gallium nitride (GaN) substrate LED -- a major achievement by a heavyweight team -- along with questions as to why the firm is only shipping MR-16 lamps.

Five:  NXP and Greenwave partner to release the first IPv6-controllable light bulb in October, using the 6LoWPAN standard, a milestone in networked smart lighting. 

SixCree releases the most efficient production LED yet, the XM-L2, at 186 lumens per watt.

Seven: 3M announces the Advanced Light Bulb to be sold by Walmart. Coming from a major materials company rather than a lighting company, the bulb uses innovative light-pipe technology to tackle the perpetual Edison-bulb problem, namely, that LEDs just don’t like to emit light in all directions.

Eight:  Home interiors chain Ikea announces that it will phase out all non-LED lighting products and store lighting by 2016.

Nine:  China turns to U.S. suppliers in an official backlash against domestic LED streetlight quality problems.The city of Chongqing, in June, completes China’s largest LED street lamp installation, using 1.9 million Cree LEDs in 20,000 lights on 119 streets. China momentarily claims four of the world’s five largest LED streetlight installations.

Ten:  The Osram non-IPO twists in the euro wind. LED investors and founders hoping for a headline exit story will have to wait until 2013. Siemens revised its IPO of Osram into a share conversion and then delayed it repeatedly as the Eurozone struggled.
Few of the LED products, projects, or milestones of 2012 have emerged from a government subsidy or mandate. Contrast that with the solar photovoltaic (PV) market, which lives in terror of plunging off of subsidy cliffs