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A Rare Peek Behind the Scenes at GE's LED Research Complex

by LiveModern Webmaster last modified Jan 04, 2012 02:15 AM
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by Brent Ehrlich last modified Sep 23, 2011

GE's 9-watt Energy Smart LED bulb is the first Energy Star-rated replacement for 40-watt incandescent bulbs and provides an omnidirectional light that is similar to incandescents. Photo: GE Lighting I recently visited GE's Nela Pa... Changing perceptions In general, GE has not been associated with cutting-edge LED performance, but that perception might be changing. When I looked into modular LED lighting last year, for instance, the GE Infusion module was the only unit with adjustable wattage, but the overall performance was not spectacular and the switch seemed like a bit of a gimmick. Manufacturers like Xicato , on the other hand, were creating some of the best LED modules available. In the year since the article was published, GE has completely redesigned its module. The adjustable wattage is gone and in its place are a number of models to fit various needs, including one module with an impressive color-rendering index (CRI) of 90. Playing to its strengths The Infusion module is a good example of how quickly the LED industry is changing and of GE's philosophy going forward. Unlike some LED companies, that control the entire production process from the diode through fixture, GE said it doesn't need to manufacture the individual LEDs. Though it still makes them, it is also purchasing LEDs from Cree for use in its bulbs and luminaires. Taking into account the current performance limitations and high cost of LEDs, Steve Briggs, vice president of marketing and global product management at GE Lighting Solutions, said that people have to understand where using LEDs makes sense and where it doesn't. According to Briggs, GE's current LED portfolio is 94% commercial/professional products, including signage and street lights that benefit from LED's cold-weather performance and where the cold-white color that is disliked in most interior applications is an asset, providing energy-efficiency and good visibility as an alternative to the yellow glow of low-pressure sodium fixtures. Edge Light technology has the potential to replace standard fluorescent tubes while also providing unique design options. Unlit the panel in this fixture is transparent. Photo: GE Lighting When lit, this Edge Light fixture provides an even, dimmable, diffuse light with a CRI of 80. Photo: GE Lighting Photo: GE Lighting Building on its roots? GE invented the mass-produced light bulb and is not abandoning its residential roots in the LED market. The company is actively pursuing LED incandescent replacement bulbs. Companies like Cree and Phillips have garnered a lot of attention for their bulbs: Cree for pushing the lumens per watt of LEDs, and Phillips for its L Prize-winning 10-watt EnduraLED . GE has somewhat quietly gained some notoriety itself. It offered the first Energy Star-rated 40-watt equivalent A bulb on the market, the 9-watt, 3000K Energy Smart bulb, that has an omnidirectional light. (The company now makes a 13-watt version as well and a full line is in the works for 2012). Why is this innovative? LED lighting typically shines in one direction. If that LED is a lightbulb, then the light shines up onto the ceiling and not on the book you are trying to read or article you're trying to type. That is a problem. The Energy Smart bulb provides lighting similar to incandescent and is designed to look as much like a conventional bulb as possible. It is even white when off, unlike the EnduraLED bulb, whose phosphors give it a yellow appearance when off, similar to a bug light. The majority of the Energy Smart parts, cooling fins, and optics, are interchangeable at the factory level, so the company does not have to "reinvent the lightbulb" for each wattage bulb it produces. This should help bring down the cost, because at the current $50 suggested retail ($29 in some stores), the price will have to come down for it to become a viable incandescent replacement. Cutting-edge lighting I began this post with some history, so maybe it's fitting I end it looking toward the future. One of the most interesting lighting fixtures I saw at GE was the company's Edge Lighting. While many companies are cramming LEDs into tubes to create fluorescent T-8 and T-5 replacements, Edge Lighting contains LEDs built around the edge of a ceiling (or potentially wall) fixture, so when turned on the LEDs can either produce a diffuse 80-CRI light across the entire panel or the light can be focused onto a particular area. The fixtures are going to be first available as square troffers in 2011, but the technology can be built into almost any shape to open up design options. They are instant-on, fully dimmable, and easily integrated into building controls. I expect to see a lot more Edge Lighting in the coming years.






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