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Martin LaMonica

A View from Martin LaMonica

Cree Aims at LED Lighting Sweet Spot

Technical improvements in LED light arrays mean lamps can crank out more light per watt, making them more competitive with incumbent technologies for commercial customers.

  • July 24, 2012

When it comes to LED lighting, there’s a very valid question: how many consumers are willing to fork out $50 for a light bulb, no matter how efficient and long-lasting it is? But commercial customers might have a different opinion.

High tech inside: Cree’s latest downlight for commercial customer uses six LEDs, versus more than 30 for the older version.
Credit: Cree

Cree today introduced an LED-based spot light which shows that, despite fits and starts among consumers, LED lighting has far better prospects in hotel lobbies, restaurants, offices, and other commercial spaces.

The lamp, called the CR6-800L, is designed to fit into the recessed cans on ceilings and replace incandescent or compact florescent lamps. Cree, which makes both LED light sources and actual lamps, says that improvements in LED performance mean that the spot lights can put out more light than previous versions, or about 800 lumens. An incandescent light with that brightness consumes about 90 watts, while the CR6 consumes 12.5 watts. If it’s used six hours a day, the LED light could last more than 20 years.

What about cost? At less than $60, it’s still substantially more expensive than an incandescent equivalent and about the same price as a comparable CFL, says Gary Trott, the vice president of product management at Cree. But commercial customers typically use their lights several hours a day, which means the return on investment is about a year. In terms of light quality, the color rendering index is over 90, not as high as incandescent lighting but better than average consumer LEDs. Since LEDs give off light in one direction, they are particularly well suited for spot lights.

Even with good technical specs, new lighting technology faces challenges to being adopted widely. The construction industry tends to be slow to adopt new products, particularly if they have higher purchase prices, Trott notes.

An important advantage LED-based lamps have over incumbent technologies is that LED light sources—the semiconductors that emit light—are on a faster price-performance curve. That means each new generation puts out more light per watt, while the costs continue to go down. In the case of the latest CR6, Cree was able to reduce the number of LEDs from over 30 to six and still get more light output than the previous version. Designers also wrung out costs by cutting out electrical components and using a new lens to diffuse light.

Trott predicts commercial customers will be the lead adopters of LED-based lamps, starting with downlights and then moving to outdoor street lights and then office troffers, the ubiquitous overhead lighting in office buildings. “There an amazing amount of technology in these lights but our job is to make that invisible to the end user,” he says.

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