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Paul James - Editorial Comment

Issue 58 Dec / Jan 2010 - 11

Welcome to our annual LED issue where we tackle all things solid state. It’s been quite a few months for our normally quiet little lighting profession. We’ve had research papers questioning the safety and energy saving credentials of LEDs that have subsequently been reported on in the mainstream press; and we’ve had another PLDA president hand in his resignation before his term ended. Exciting times for a journalist, worrying times for the lighting industry.

If I can briefly comment on Dr. Paissidis’ resignation first as it appears that he was about to be pushed due, in part, to his views about the PLDA structure expressed in his interview with myself in the last issue of mondo*arc. I have not criticised the PLDA before for obvious reasons and I sincerely wish the PLDA well as I know that they do an excellent job in promoting lighting design and education programmes. But there is clearly a problem with the apparent transparency issues within the organisational set-up of the PLDA and recent events have only served to highlight this. For the sake of the lighting design profession I hope that the PLDA clarifies its administrative and governance structures so that it can move on and do what it does best.

It has long been predicted that the backlash against LEDs would soon gain more credibility once time allowed for research work to be carried out. Two of the research papers have questioned the energy efficiency credentials of solid state lighting. The first, by Dr. Jeff Tsao at the Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico, actually makes the claim that the introduction of LED lighting could lead to an increase in energy consumption in homes and buildings by a factor of ten within twenty years! This paper was published in the ‘Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics’ but was then picked up by The Economist on August 26th with the headline ‘Not Such a Bright Idea’ immediately setting the tone for a negative article. It’s actually based on some ludicrous assumptions that Henrietta Lynch duly criticises on page 88.

Then, in September, the National Lighting Product Information Program (NLPIP), administered by the Lighting Research Council in the USA, published a report, ‘Streetlights for Collector Roads’, that claimed that LED street lights have an inferior distribution and higher cost per mile than HIgh Pressure Sodium lighting. Again, it turns out that the methodology used was flawed and the LED luminaires used were, in most cases, underpowered and not appropriate.

Most seriously was a paper, reported by Le Monde on October 25th, by the French National Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health Safety (ANSES) that states that high-power LEDs can be detrimental to human health, particularly children. Apparently the high blue content in High power white LEDs exerts ‘toxic stress’ to the retina. While this is a legitimate concern (see Deborah Burnett’s article on page 96) the report was immediately picked up by sceptics that LEDs are a certain health hazard. However, if you look more closely at the detail you can see that the report relates to conditions where you would need to stare into a HB LED light source with no diffuser and / or reflector for a very long time in order to cause damage - something that would be a health hazard whatever the light source. I would no sooner look directly into any light source for any significant length of time than stare directly at the sun all day!

The problem with such academic reports is that they are just that - academic. They are often valuable pieces of research but are unfortunately taken out of context by the mainstream press and by individuals and organisations that have an axe to grind.


The editor in Times Square, New York City where Toshiba’s LED bulb takes centre stage.

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