Undecided about whether to buy LED-based lights instead of compact fluorescent bulbs? Get ready to have some more uncertainty in your life, because another new lighting technology has just arrived: OLED.
Where LED (light-emitting diode) lighting uses small, intensely bright sources of light, which are typically made to look like traditional light bulbs, OLED (organic light-emitting diode) lighting uses flat, dimmer sources of light, essentially resulting in a glowing square or rectangle. Steady advances in manufacturing technology have made OLEDs bright and long-lived enough to use, and now they’re going mainstream. Because OLED panels are not piercingly bright, they can be mounted in fixtures seen directly by the eye; there’s no need for reflectors or diffusers to cut the glare. The approach also opens new options for lighting designs.
OLED lighting elements have a lifespan of about 30,000 to 40,000 hours of use — a bit less than LEDs that can reach 50,000 hours, but still more than quadruple what compact fluorescent bulbs offer.
Dominance to come?
OLED will become mainstream, predicts Darice Liu, a spokeswoman for Universal Display, a 144-employee company founded in 1994 that licenses hundreds of OLED-related patents to companies commercializing the technology.
“We believe that OLED lighting has the potential to dominate many of the residential and commercial market applications,” Liu said.
Energy efficiency and new designs will provide the impetus, Liu predicted, with OLED and LED lighting coexisting because of different advantages.
“Inherent energy efficiency advantages are a key benefit in the lighting market, but there is the potential for OLEDs to be transformational as well. OLEDs will present lighting products in a new form factor, which will expand the design possibilities and change the way we use light in many environments,” she said.
Next up: Colors and lower costs
Prices might be higher now, but they’ll drop in coming years, said Jeannine Fisher Wang, director of business development and marketing for Acuity’s OLED group.
“We’re looking at the cost of OLED being maybe a tenth of what it is today in about five years,” she said, referring to the price of the panel components themselves. Even as entry-level OLED lighting fixture prices drop, though, some products will continue to come with premium pricing as OLED lighting makers embrace the interactive element of the nascent LED lighting industry. There, smartphone apps and smart-home devices add new controls, new costs and new profit possibilities to the lighting market.
Another premium option that will arrive is colored OLED panels, though the cost is too high and color saturation too low right now. These will provide light whose color can be changed according to mood, time of day or other factors.
“We definitely see opportunities for that, not only in the consumer arena but commercially as well,” Wang said. “There’s huge interest — corporate interiors, healthcare environments, education facilities. There are a lot of potential applications where color-tuning makes sense.”
She expects governmental regulations could help push OLED along with LED lighting. Specifically, Title 24, an energy standard in California, will mean the disappearance of older lighting technologies for new homes.
Today OLED “is a bit under the efficacy requirements” of lumens per watt, she said, “but moving forward, the standard will probably address all lighting technologies through some definition of high efficacy pertinent to particular technologies.”
OLED lighting’s biggest push will come with lower prices, most likely, though.
“As the cost of OLED technology drops, you have the opportunity to play in the commodity product market,” Wang said.
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