Cree CEO says the future of LED lighting

LED lighting has long held the promise of replacing energy-thieving incandescent bulbs without the drawbacks of fluorescent lighting and is finally taking hold in some sectors of the marketplace, says Chuck Swoboda, CEO of Cree Inc.

Cree is leading the LED lighting revolution and setting the stage to obsolete the incandescent light bulb through the use of energy-efficient, environmentally friendly LED lighting. Chuck Swoboda, as the CEO of Cree Inc. has served since June 2001. He noted Cree has known for the last four or five years it could do solid state LED lighting. Meanwhile, commercialization took a while because the company first had to develop the LED chip technology and incorporate it in LED components.

Swoboda says Cree introduced the first lighting class LEDs two years ago, then, “It took two years to get a reasonable number of their products into the market so you could go out and buy them.” Now, he says, the LED’s advantages over both incandescent bulbs and fluorescent lighting are starting to pay off. He points out Incandescent bulbs are not at all efficient, they generate 95 percent heat and only 5 percent light, which is better than a gas lamp, but not efficient. A 12-watt LED is equivalent to a 65 watt incandescent bulb—an 85 percent energy savings.

On average in the United States, running a 65-watt light for 50,000 hours would cost $325 in electricity alone. Because the Cree LR6 LED uses only 12 watts, running the light for 50,000 hours will cost only $60 under the same scenario. And you would be changing incandescent bulbs in that period, because 50,000 hours is 50 times the life of a typical incandescent and five times that of a fluorescent lamp.

The new LED lights also offer better color and half the energy use of fluorescent lighting, not to mention being much more environmentally friendly than fluorescents, which contain mercury. Swoboda admits it may take a while for consumers to adopt more expensive LED lighting, but larger government and business users see the value.

Cree recently announced two major government installations including an entire wing of the Pentagon. This isn’t something coming, it’s beginning now, Swoboda says, “with real products installed in real applications today. Anywhere you see a traditional light source, there is an opportunity for LED replacement. We should see the first LED automotive headlamps in a the next year or two. Manufacturers are already using them as accent lights and most interior lights are already LEDs. There’s also a big trend to use LEDs in notebook computer screens. Apple Computer, for instance, recently said it will use LED backlighting exclusively as part of its green initiative.”

The basic business strategy at Cree, Swoboda says, is to promote LEDs as money-saving, energy-saving and environmentally friendly. “Those points give LED lighting the momentum it needs to take over the traditional lighting business. We can’t see any applications where it doesn’t apply.”

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