In 2008, for instance, researchers at Purdue University to replace the expensive standard substrate used in LED production — sapphire — with low-cost, metal-coated silicon wafers. The switch would greatly reduce the cost of LED manufacturing, assuming another silicon shortage does not come along.
Even without a cost breakthrough, though, reports suggest that paying more for LEDs would be worth it. In a recent LED-to-fluorescent comparison, Greentech Media found that while LEDs are clearly more expensive at first, they are far more cost-effective in the long run.
Comparing an installation of 40 LEDs and 40 fluorescent tubes, the report found that in the first year it would cost $3,069 for the energy and initial purchase of LEDs, while the fluorescent tubes would cost $1,071. Given that every year thereafter the energy costs of the LED tubes would be lower than fluorescents — $269 versus $431 — the analysis found that after 16 years the LEDs offered a six percent cost savings.
Still, as with most green building products, the long-term cost savings of LEDs won't necessarily convince building owners right away. It's likely to take awhile for them to warm up to the idea that they should increase their lighting budget by a few thousand dollars, even if it means reducing their energy bills.
In the meantime, during the ten years the study predicts it will take for LEDs to overcome obstacles to their adoption, fluorescents will continue to replace incandescents, the authors say. To fill that future market demand, companies are emerging with controllers and sensors to help boost the efficiency of flourescent bulbs.
Cavet: 'Save Energy and Money Now'
One such firm is the venture-backed Toronto company , which recently launched its LumiSmart Intelligent Controller, a device that connects directly to lighting circuits and automatically adjusts voltages to improve efficiency.
With its 'save energy and money now' approach, Cavet is likely to be appealing to building owners.
"A 100,000 square foot property can be outfitted with LumiSmart in one afternoon and benefit from an immediate savings of 30 percent with an ROI payback period of between 12 to 24 months," Albert Behr, president and CEO of Cavet Technologies, told SolveClimate.
According to the company, a single LumiSmart ILC can manage lighting loads of up to 6.9 kilowatts, or around 130 fluorescent lights. The product provides power savings by altering the power waveform and then applying what Cavet calls an "adaptive power factor correction." By inserting on-off pulses into the sine wave, LumiSmart is able to dramatically reduce electrical consumption with minimal impact on lighting levels.
So far, Cavet has caught the eye of venture capitalists and as-yet-unnamed utilities in Canada, Europe and the U.S., all eager to test the company’s controller. It also won praise from cleantech analyst Dallas Kachan, former managing director of The Cleantech Group, who released a of the company via his market research firm, Kachan & Co, last week.
The key benefit of Cavet's controller, analysts say, is that it is relatively inexpensive at $2,000 per controller and is quick and easy to install. While it still needs to be installed by an electrician, it's about as plug-and-play as such a device gets, the company says.
"There are other lighting controllers, but they generally take a lot of time and money to install, so the more lights an organization has, the more expensive these other solutions are," Kachan says in the company’s launch video.
The LumiSmart product has been in trials throughout Canada and Europe during the last year, including at the Canadian headquarters of electronics manufacturer Celestica, which is both making and testing the product.