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Why SSL

Since 2003, the U.S. Department of Energy has invested with industry partners in research and development of solid-state lighting (SSL)—including both light-emitting diode (LED) and organic light emitting diode (OLED) technologies. Why such concentrated attention on SSL?

The answer is simple: because of SSL's rapid ongoing improvements and superior energy-saving potential. It is estimated that switching to SSL could reduce national lighting electricity use by nearly one-half by 2030—the annual equivalent to saving 3,000 trillion Btus, worth $26 billion in today’s dollars. That would equate to the total energy consumed by 24 million American homes today and would reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 180 million metric tons—the equivalent of taking 38 million of today’s passenger vehicles off the road. DOE is not alone in recognizing the importance of that kind of savings; Congress recognizes it too, which is why the Energy Policy Act of 2005 mandates DOE to accelerate SSL technology.

Line graph demonstrating the increase of luminaire efficacy over time.
Source: DOE LED Lighting Facts; DOE SSL R&D Program Plan

DOE has not abandoned lighting controls and other light source technologies, however. DOE still invests to a large degree in promoting the most efficient forms of conventional lighting technologies, through such implementation programs as Building America, the Commercial Buildings Integration Program, and the Federal Energy Management Program.

Keeping a Foot on the Accelerator

DOE has worked in close collaboration with innovators in the field to topple technical and design barriers and to lay the foundation for market success. Although many barriers have been successfully tackled and SSL has come a long way in a short time, the upside potential remains extraordinary, and keeping a foot on the accelerator will magnify the benefits. Unlike conventional lighting technologies, SSL technology still has significant room for additional performance and efficacy improvements.

Efficacies up to 250 lm/W are seen as achievable and offer benefits beyond the enormous energy savings. The DOE white paper LED Efficacy: What America Stands to Gain outlines additional benefits, including:

  • Scientific and technological advances that extend beyond lighting
  • Better LED products that deliver improved lighting quality as well as enhanced services
  • Lower first costs for LED lighting products, which in turn will encourage change-out of existing stock to more efficient devices
  • Stronger positioning of domestic LED manufacturers who produce high value, high brightness LEDs.

Continued innovation and breakthroughs in materials, processes, product designs, control systems, and manufacturing are still needed to realize the technology’s full potential. Going forward, R&D priorities will also include breakthrough improvements to lifetime, color quality and consistency, and lighting system performance, as well as value-added features that increase the competitiveness of SSL products. In addition, R&D will target flexible production, testing, and monitoring technologies that will position the United States for sustained growth and leadership in SSL engineering and manufacturing.

A Comprehensive Program

DOE has made a long-term commitment to advance the development and market introduction of energy-efficient solid-state lighting. Its comprehensive national program addresses research and development, demonstrations, testing and quality control, market development support, and buyer support—all in service of maximizing the energy-efficiency of SSL products in the marketplace.

With three annual workshops that collectively bring together approximately 750 attendees, as well as periodic stakeholder roundtables, DOE's solid-state lighting program is open and participatory and coordinates with many lighting and standards groups, such as the Illuminating Engineering Society of North America, the International Association of Lighting Designers, the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, the American National Standards Institute, and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. It's also highly transparent, publishing numerous reports and roadmaps that are posted online at this website.