A U.S. department of energy study says that if homes and offices swapped their light bulbs for white light-emitting diodes (LEDs), they could slash U.S. electricity costs by $100 billion over the next 20 years. But the LEDs themselves are expensive enough that their use for general illumination has been limited mainly to high-end buildings. So a number of major LED and lighting companies – Nichia, GE spinoff GelCore, Osram Opto Semiconductors, and Philips – are now launching an alliance to find economical ways to build LEDs into offices and homes.
The effort is now taking shape in a demonstration lab sponsored by alliance members and being built at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, NY. There, researchers intend to create a uniform set of snap-together wall, ceiling, and LED-based lighting panels that are all prewired with safe, low-voltage electrical connections. The idea is that the panels would replace both plasterboard and conventional wiring and lighting fixtures. This, says Nadarajah Narendran, director of research at RPI’s Lighting Research Center, would cut construction costs enough to balance out the higher costs of LEDs; it would also make it easy and inexpensive to reconfigure living spaces. RPI is scheduled to open the demonstration lab this summer and begin holding the first focus groups with construction experts and building-materials manufacturers.