October marks the fiftieth anniversary of the invention of the LED (light-emitting diode) by General Electric's Nick Holonyak, father of the GaAsP visible LED.
That decade-old innovation in the lab is finally about to seriously disrupt the incandescent and CFL lamp market.
Companies bringing LED lighting to market span the value chain from semiconductors to electronics to packaging and sales channel. See recent articles about networked LEDs from Redwood Systems and Digital Lumens; IKEA ceasing sales of incandescents; utility rebates for LED lighting; and new bulbs from Lighting Science Group and startups LEDwiser. Most VC firms with a cleantech practice have a solid-state or advanced lighting firm in the portfolio; Rockport invested in Exclara and Luxim, NEA in Soraa and Shenghui Lighting, VantagePoint invested in Bridgelux and Switch Lighting.
Lunera is a VC-funded LED lighting company selling to commercial interior and general lighting markets. We spoke with Michael Keddington, the CEO, and VP of Sales and Marketing Tom Quinn.
The CEO said, "It's become clear to me when we go out to building owners that they're thinking about improved building performance and its value." Quinn added, "In the long run, people might become more discerning and demanding about lighting," adding that lighting in the commercial space means troffers, pendant lighting and task lighting.
There's still innovation going on in lighting technology, and not just in the LED chips themselves but also in:
- Control hardware
- New power architecture and ways to capitalize on the DC nature of the LED
- Better modulating color quality of light and its potential applications
- Thermal management
According to Keddington, revenues have doubled at the company this year with sales to marquee customers who cannot be named. He sees the company as sufficiently funded to make it to cashflow-positive. Lunera has received more than $18 million in venture capital from The Westly Group, RCG Ventures, and Navitas Capital.
Advanced lighting companies also have a mandate on their side in California's Building Energy Efficiency Program, Title 24.
In the CEO's words, "We've reduced costs by 60 percent. We're coming up on getting rid of the price issue with fluorescents." He added that exposure to the retail market has demonstrated to customers the uniformity and quality of LED light, as well as the ability "to richly render saturated colors for marketing purposes."
Lunera designs all the fixtures "down to the PC board" with "close attention to color consistency and how we manufacture for color consistency." Quinn noted that the LED chip itself accounts for less than 10 percent of the cost of the fixture.
Quinn said that LEDs at the source are 140 to 150 lumens per watt today, with a roadmap to 200 lumens per watt -- compared to 90 lumens per watt for fluorescents. Lunera's "delivered light is 110 lumens per watt."
Challenges facing a startup like Lunera include low-cost competition from Asia and scaling the sales channel and manufacturing.
Here's an example of Lunera's fixtures:
Back to Nick Holonyak for a few more words.
Holonyak, inventor of the GaAsP visible LED, called the LED the “ultimate lamp” because “the current itself is the light.” In an interview with GE Lighting, the now 83-year-old Holonyak spoke of the competition which drove his discovery: “If they can make a laser, I can make a better laser than any of them, because I’ve made this alloy that is in the red -- visible. And I’m going to be able to see what’s going on. And they’re stuck in the infrared.”
Here's video of an interview with Holonyak, courtesy of General Electric.
And Holonyak in his lab.