Solid State Lighting, in particular the use of LEDs and OLEDs for general lighting, is a promising technology with high growth potential in Europe. The path for the development of SSL in Europe is sketched out in the Green Paper on SSL of the European Commission. The current study supports the direction taken in the green paper towards deployment of SSL.
This paper sketches the lighting consumptions and various applications of SSL, from fully-mature applications till the general lighting sector when mass adoption is expected from 2015, first in the retrofit market then in the new lighting fixtures and luminaires.
It focuses on the strengths and weaknesses of the European market for SSL.
Distinction can be made between the outdoor lighting sector, where LEDs are more present, and indoor lighting, where the growth rate is still low.
The LED industry is rather fragmented. It is usually divided into five segments: materials, equipment, finished lamps and components, luminaires and systems, and finally lighting services and solutions.
One of the vulnerability areas is the fact Europe is dependent from China for a variety of semiconductor materials, including various rare earth elements (REE), that are used in the production of LEDs.
The European manufacturing base is strong in the downstream segments of the value chain close to the application (40%) but it is weaker in the upstream segments (LED packaging, chips, wafers). Product design and marketing and sales are managed in Europe whereas product manufacturing takes place in Asia.
R&D takes place mainly in Japan, the US and Europe. Through patent cross-licensing however the research base becomes broader, including China, Taiwan and South Korea. Europe is suffering from fragmented funding. Asian countries have a high budget for R&D.
LED commercialisation channels might face a reshuffle, in particular when the industry will be moving to lighting services. For LEDs to penetrate the market more, end-user information and training, as well as training for installers, would be necessary.
LED is still a costly product, in particular in the general lighting segment where alternatives remain cheaper. The price needed for mass adoption has not yet been reached. It is estimated that a price of $8 would allow a 25% market share for LEDs. In Europe, a price of €10 would allow to reach, after some time, a 50% market share for LEDs versus 50% for CFLs in the residential sector. It is to be noted that the price for LED bulbs differs from one country to another, e.g. LED bulbs are cheaper in Japan than they are in the US or Europe.
Despite the potential of SSL for energy efficiency and also better lighting, many obstacles to its development remain.
Cost and consequently payback time are not yet in the advantage of LED-based general illumination, compared to conventional lighting technologies. Quality is an issue, particularly in the absence of standards, both for testing and for final products. Luminous efficacy and lifetime can still be improved. Last but not least, educational barriers remain, that could be overcome by training of all players in the market, from the designer to the user.
As far as the environment is concerned, LEDs do not contain mercury. Life cycle analysis seems to be quite favourable for SSL but further research into environment and health benefits will be required to confirm this.
Some of the obstacles to mass adoption in the general lighting segment will disappear as technology evolves to cheaper products with better light quality. But price and energy efficiency might not be the only selling elements for LEDs. Innovation might be an important asset when designing new lighting products.
Further legislation and policy initiatives addressing SSL will need to be designed in such a way to reinforce Europe's strategic strengths in the lighting sector, as proposed in the Green paper on SSL of the European Commission.