Lighting Up Las Vegas with Efficiency2011-08-02 01:02:00
By Rocky Fernandez, CEP Communications Director
Last Wednesday, yours truly attended the LED Show, a two-day conference at the Rio Hotel & Casino focused on LED technology.
LED, of course, stands for "Light-Emitting Diode." These light bulbs have been around for decades-the little blinking light at the tip of your remote control is an LED. They also light your laptop. By channeling electrons through a small semiconductor placed on a string or board, you can direct light through a bulb not dissimilar to an old-fashioned Edison incandescent. By using mirrored surfaces, the light can be further amplified to get additional brightness.
The one and only downside to LEDs right now is the up-front cost. As I entered the well-lit LED Expo I'd hoped to hear exhibitors tell me that they'd be really cheap, sooner than later.
I didn't exactly hear that. They're not necessarily cheap on the shelf-but, of course, that's if you only look at the price of lighting up front. Looking at the price over the life of the LED will save you money long-term and last a lot longer than 19th Century energy-wasters. Still, most of us don't go to the hardware section looking to spend more than $5 on buying a light bulb.
It would be wrong to assume that I went away disappointed. I learned, for instance, that LEDs still burn at a significant temperature, albeit much cooler than an energy-wasting incandescent. That means that some heat must be managed, and one company, SinkPad, makes boards that keep heat down.
Another company, Wire-Free LED, designed “wireless lights” that use LEDs to power a stage-ready lighting system that would replace traditional klieg lights. In addition to being powered by remote control, they are battery-powered and don’t require the masses of cables that usually litter a stage. If one goes out, they’re easily replaced without having to pull out the right cable. Because they burn far cooler than traditional stage lighting, they also cut down significantly on air conditioning. Any of you who have been to a hot, well-lit club know how uncomfortable concerts can get.
In light of the unfortunate debate recently in the House of Representatives over keeping 19th-century energy wasters around, one company had an "evolutionary" display of newer, more efficient incandescents that meet the new standards, as well as a few other alternative bulbs. To say that the new Bush-approved standards threaten consumer choice was clearly absurd.
While light bulb manufacturers long ago solved the problem of dimmer switches (both CFLs and LEDs have dimmable models), a problem with those models is a flickering effect that happens when you lower the lights below a certain brightness.
Rather than fix the bulb, Lutron electronics fixed the dimming switch. Using their switch-which costs roughly the same as your regular, everyday switch, the light output is altered to compensate for and fix the flickering issue.
Saving the best for last, Las Vegas is known for its lighting. Specifically, its neon lighting. It's so ingrained in our ethos that we're have a museum (and soon a park) dedicated to it. Despite a decline in the neon that traditionally lined the Strip and downtown, the LED lighting I saw might just bring it back.
Two companies-Californeon and Irradiant-had flexible, neon-like lighting tubes in all traditional “neon” colors. As J.R. Zimmerman of Californeon explained to me, new night clubs, bars, gas stations, and other companies looking to brighten themselves up have started using LED-powered lights that look just like traditional neon. They are three times brighter, last five times as long, and use 70% less energy than traditional neon tubes. They also don’t get scratched (or broken) by the dust and sand that often blows around the valley.
As I left the expo, I was buoyed by the fact that in these times, entrepreneurs are working hard to make a better product, with innovation paving the way to the future. Perhaps in a few years, the answer to the old joke about "how many [insert group here] does it take to screw in light bulb?" will be a dull, "we don't know, we haven't had to do that in years."