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The Quick and Dirty History of LED Lighting

Electric lighting has not changed much in one hundred years or so, but it has brightened our lives. Since the first practical and reliable incandescent bulbs appeared in the early 1900s, the designs have not changed much at all. Incandescent bulbs are simple, cheap to produce, cheap to buy, but certainly not cheap to operate. With efficiencies averaging 5% and the remaining 95% going to heat production, they make better space heaters than lighting devices.

Becoming widely available as early as the 1940s, florescent lighting proved to be a better option. But because of its unpleasant light output, noise, and the low cost of electricity, they found their way into very few homes. They were, however, used in many commercial buildings early on, just as they are commonly found today.

Florescent lights have received a number of improvements through the years. Modern florescent bulbs are offered in an array of light color temperature outputs, some appearing equal to that of an incandescent bulb. Electronic ballasts have also become the standard, and are smaller, more efficient, and quieter than the magnetic ones they replaced. These changes have increased their residential use and enable the now poplar compact florescent to be a suitable direct replacement for incandescents.

Compact fluorescents are four to five times more efficient and last five to nine years. Unfortunately, they do have a downside. Florescent lights contain mercury, and they were even originally known as “mercury vapor lights.” So they have to be disposed of properly, and a broken lamp would not exactly be the greatest boon to your health either.

I am by no means saying you should get rid of your fluorescents; they're still a good product. I am suggesting you take a look at an alternative:

An LED, or light emitting diode, is a form of solid state light that was realized in practical form in the 60s by General Electric. Then the popular red LED was created, following from yellow, orange and green. These low-light output LEDs were seen in many electronics, mostly used as indicators, with the exception of some displays. The earliest LED numeric displays were incorporated into HP calculators in the late 60s. LEDs available to average consumers did not change much for many years and they continued to be used increasingly in numeric displays and indicators. The biggest change to happen to consumer LEDs came after several years with the invention of the blue LED. In the early 90s Nichia® came out with the blue LED, which was followed by the release of higher brightness red and blue LEDs later in the decade.

Soon LEDs were finding their way into increasingly higher light output applications such as traffic lights, flashlights, and automotive brake lights. What was needed most was a light that could compete with our current incandescent and florescent task lighting, and we got our solution in the 21st century with the white LED.

In recent years LEDs affordable to the average consumer have become available in exceptionally high outputs, and many have switched their ratings from millicandela (mcd) to Lumens. An increasing number of LEDs are available with light outputs close or equivalent to their halogen and florescent rivals. Many manufactures, such as Cree®, are offering LED modules with outputs in the several lumen range, available in pure white (~6000K) to warm white (~3000K) color temps. These modules contain one or more LEDs on a single circuit board, and some even have multiple LEDs on a single chip.

Power Supplies & LED Drivers

Supplying power to LEDs is simpler and more efficient than ever, as LED drivers provide the regulated current that LEDs need for long and efficient lifespans. These drivers are available for DC and AC power sources, in many different voltage ranges. Now integrating LEDs into your off-grid site or your average grid-tied AC home is basically "plug and play." Many LED drivers even have built-in dimmer functions.

We have now entered the age of LED residential lighting. LED lighting will now have a more pleasing light than florescent and use far less energy than halogen or incandescent, but most importantly LEDs do not contain mercury. LED lighting is available as direct replacement for many styles of fixtures, power sources, and socket styles, and an increasing number of new light fixtures are coming with LEDs preinstalled.


Fluorescent Lamp.” Wikipedia

The Evolution of Lighting.” GE Lighting.

Mallette, Vincent. “A Brief History of Illumination.” Copyright © 1999 Inwit Publishing, Inc.








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