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Imminent “Lighting Revolution” Could Save Trillions of Dollars, Researchers Predict


Image of light-emitting diodes by Rensselaer/Kim and Schubert

If all of the world’s light bulbs were replaced with energy-efficient LEDs for a period of 10 years, researchers say it would reduce global oil consumption by 962 million barrels, reduce the need for 280 global power plants, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 10 billion tons (a reduction in emissions of more than 12 percent, based on NASA estimates).

And all this would ultimately result in financial savings of U.S. $1.83 trillion.

“A revolution in the way we illuminate our world is imminent,” say E. Fred Schubert and Jong Kyu Kim, two professors at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, New York.

“Innovations in photonics and solid state lighting will lead to trillions of dollars in cost savings, along with a massive reduction in the amount of energy required to light homes and businesses around the globe,” they say in a research paper.

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A new generation of lighting devices based on light-emitting diodes (LEDs) will supplant the common light bulb in coming years, the paper suggests. “In addition to the environmental and cost benefits of LEDs, the technology is expected to enable a wide range of advances in areas as diverse as healthcare, transportation systems, digital displays, and computer networking.

“What the transistor meant to the development of electronics, the LED means to the field of photonics. This core device has the potential to revolutionize how we use light.”

Schubert is the Wellfleet Senior Constellation Professor of Future Chips at Rensselaer, and heads the university’s National Science Foundation-funded Smart Lighting Center. Kim is a research assistant professor of electrical, computer, and systems engineering. The paper, titled “Transcending the replacement paradigm of solid-state lighting,” will be published in the December 22 issue of Optics Express.

Researchers are able to control every aspect of light generated by LEDs, allowing the light sources to be tweaked and optimized for nearly any situation, Schubert and Kim said. In general LEDs will require 20 times less power than today’s conventional light bulbs, and five times less power than “green” compact fluorescent bulbs.

“Deployed on a large scale, LEDs have the potential to tremendously reduce pollution, save energy, save financial resources, and add new and unprecedented functionalities to photonic devices,” the researchers wrote. “These factors make photonics what could be termed a benevolent tsunami, an irresistible wave, a solution to many global challenges currently faced by humanity and will be facing even more in the years to come.”

“Possible smart lighting applications include rapid biological cell identification, interactive roadways, boosting plant growth, and better supporting human circadian rhythms to reduce an individual’s dependency on sleep-inducing drugs or reduce the risk of certain types of cancer.”


If all the lights seen in this NASA image of North America were replaced with LEDs the amount of energy used to illuminate the continent would be cut by 95 percent, according to the Rensselaer professors.

What are we waiting for?


  1. Shelby
    February 2, 2013, 1:06 am

    This is pretty