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Learning About LEDs

LED stands for light emitting diode. LED lighting products produce light approximately 90% more efficiently than incandescent light bulbs. How do they work? An electrical current passes through a microchip, which illuminates the tiny light sources we call LEDs and the result is visible light. To prevent performance issues, the heat LEDs produce is absorbed into a heat sink.

LED is a highly energy efficient lighting technology, and has the potential to fundamentally change the future of lighting in the United States.  Residential LEDs -- especially ENERGY STAR rated products -- use at least 75% less energy, and last 25 times longer, than incandescent lighting.

Widespread use of LED lighting has the greatest potential impact on energy savings in the United States. By 2027, widespread use of LEDs could save about 348 TWh (compared to no LED use) of electricity: This is the equivalent annual electrical output of 44 large electric power plants (1000 megawatts each), and a total savings of more than $30 billion at today's electricity prices.

Lifetime of LED Products

The useful life of LED lighting products is defined differently than that of other light sources, such as incandescent or compact fluorescent lighting (CFL). LEDs typically do not “burn out” or fail. Instead, they experience ‘lumen depreciation’, wherein the brightness of the LED dims slowly over time. Unlike incandescent bulbs, LED “lifetime” is established on a prediction of when the light output decreases by 30 percent.

 
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How LEDs Are Used in Lighting

LEDs are incorporated into bulbs and fixtures for general lighting applications. Small in size, LEDs provide unique design opportunities. Some LED bulb solutions may physically resemble familiar light bulbs and better match the appearance of traditional light bulbs. Some LED light fixtures may have LEDs built in as a permanent light source. There are also hybrid approaches where a non-traditional “bulb” or replaceable light source format is used and specially designed for a unique fixture. LEDs offer a tremendous opportunity for innovation in lighting form factors and fit a wider breadth of applications than traditional lighting technologies.

 

LEDs and Heat

LEDs use heat sinks to absorb the heat produced by the LED and dissipate it into the surrounding environment. This keeps LEDs from overheating and burning out. Thermal management is generally the single most important factor in the successful performance of an LED over its lifetime. The higher the temperature at which the LEDs are operated, the more quickly the light will degrade, and the shorter the useful life will be.

LED products use a variety of unique heat sink designs and configurations to manage heat. Today, advancements in materials have allowed manufacturers to design LED bulbs that match the shapes and sizes of traditional incandescent bulbs. Regardless of the heat sink design, all LED products that have earned the ENERGY STAR have been tested to ensure that they properly manage the heat so that the light output is properly maintained through the end of its rated life.

 

How is LED lighting different than other light sources, such as incandescent and compact fluorescent (CFL)?

LED lighting differs from incandescent and fluorescent in several ways. When designed well, LED lighting is more efficient, versatile, and lasts longer.

LEDs are “directional” light sources, which means they emit light in a specific direction, unlike incandescent and CFL, which emit light and heat in all directions. That means LEDs are able to use light and energy more efficiently in a multitude of applications. However, it also means that sophisticated engineering is needed to produce an LED light bulb that shines light in every direction.

Common LED colors include amber, red, green, and blue. To produce white light, different color LEDs are combined or covered with a phosphor material that converts the color of the light to a familiar “white” light used in homes. Phosphor is a yellowish material that covers some LEDs. Colored LEDs are widely used as signal lights and indicator lights, like the power button on a computer.

In a CFL, an electric current flows between electrodes at each end of a tube containing gases. This reaction produces ultraviolet (UV) light and heat. The UV light is transformed into visible light when it strikes a phosphor coating on the inside of the bulb. Learn more about CFLs.

Incandescent bulbs produce light using electricity to heat a metal filament until it becomes “white” hot. As a result, incandescent bulbs release 90% of their energy as heat.

LED lighting is very different from other lighting sources such as incandescent bulbs and CFLs. Key differences include the following:

  • Light Source: LEDs are the size of a fleck of pepper, and a mix of red, green, and blue LEDs is typically used to make white light.

  • Direction: LEDs emit light in a specific direction, reducing the need for reflectors and diffusers that can trap light. This feature makes LEDs more efficient for many uses such as recessed downlights and task lighting. With other types of lighting, the light must be reflected to the desired direction and more than half of the light may never leave the fixture.

  • Heat: LEDs emit very little heat. In comparison, incandescent bulbs release 90% of their energy as heat and CFLs release about 80% of their energy as heat.

Information provided by ENERGY STAR. Source