For all of the talk about the disruptive nature of wind and solar on the utility sector, there is another clean energy technology that has already quietly rocked its own industry: light-emitting diodes.
Goldman Sachs recently released 60 charts that show the transformation that’s occurring in the low-carbon economy. The financial institution calls LEDs one of the fastest technology shifts in human history. While wind and solar are challenging the traditional electric generation sector, they have not upended it yet the way LEDs have overtaken the lighting industry. By 2020, LEDs will make up 69 percent of sales and close to 100 percent by 2025, up from nearly nothing in 2010.
The rise of LEDs is no surprise to anyone watching the clean energy industry, but the extent to which the technology is upending traditional, vertically integrated lighting companies is a quiet revolution.
As with both wind and solar, LEDs have been helped along by regulation, including many countries phasing out incandescent light bulbs. But LEDs aren’t just replacing incandescents in homes. LEDs are now price-competitive with compact fluorescent bulbs, and earlier this year GE was the first major lighting manufacturer to announce it would discontinue CFL production altogether.
It won’t be the last. Goldman Sachs estimates that lighting output per unit of electricity could double in the coming decade, which will make the technology an increasingly attractive option in renewable-powered, off-grid applications.
As LEDs transform lighting choices across the world, it’s not just traditional lighting companies that will be disrupted. A recent study found that solar LED lanterns could create approximately 2 million new jobs.
And in developed nations, the accelerating move to LEDs could be one of the most significant, and cheapest, ways to cut energy use as many countries commit to a lower-carbon future.
Lastly, it’s not just the lighting industry that LEDs may disrupt. The ability to network and control LEDs, as well as layer on other sensoring, means that LEDs are poised to become the backbone for everything from a smarter home to smarter cities.