After all these years, LEDs vindicate Edison

(photo by Afrank99)

(photo by Afrank99)

Thomas Edison may yet have the last laugh more than a century after the so-called War of the Currents, a war won by George Westinghouse with help from Nikola Tesla over the team of Edison and J.P. Morgan, the money behind the Edison General Electric Company. Edison lost the bottom-line argument between the adoption of Westinghouse’s alternating current (AC) and Edison’s direct current (DC) as the standard for transmitting power in a newly electrified United States.

Alternating current proved to be more efficient at transmitting power over great distances. Yet direct current is what powers our computers, hybrid cars and the power plants for telecommunications. And new light-emitting diode (LED) technology will require buildings that are equipped with DC systems for peak performance.

Dr. Nadarajah Narendran, director of research at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute Lighting Research Center and keynote speaker at the New York State Solid State Lighting Manufacturing and Controls Conference in Newburgh in March, will be talking about a future where alternating current will bring power to a building, but individual building micro-grids will create direct current that will enable lighting to be changed just as easily as furniture is changed today — moving lights from one panel on a wall to an entirely new position.

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RPI, with funding from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), has developed lighting that is now common in refrigerators used in commercial spaces. They’re developing an LED system for the Boeing 787. And they’re evolving solid-state systems that accommodate people’s needs as part of the design of a building.

“We can offer better lighting with solid-state systems,” said Narendran, “lighting that is more adaptable, more efficient, and saves energy. But building infrastructure has to change. It’s already happening in industry, and we’re working on creating what is basically a plug-and-play system.”

Michael Stiller, a lighting designer with offices in New York City and High Falls, two years ago hosted an education session on advanced lighting in the Hudson Valley. The technology has changed several times since then. “For example,” he said, “four years ago there was no recessed LED downlight that I would use. It was an engineering challenge to deal with the impact of heat on the LED chip. But now there are a lot of good, integrated, dedicated LED lighting fixtures.”

Most of Stiller’s work is for commercial, hospitality and entertainment clients, though high-end residential clients are increasingly interested in the light design of their homes (if you never saw the photos of Prince’s color-changing walls, be sure to look for them).

Though currently more expensive, LEDs last far longer than incandescent and fluorescent lighting, can come in any shade of the rainbow and any variation of white from warm to cool, and comfortably integrate with ambient and energy-saving systems. This is far beyond the simple swap-out-a-fluorescent-bulb. What’s being developed is a new way to look at lighting interior spaces, one that is not only more easily customized, but will also save energy.

At what price?

But will it save money? LEDs can be cost-effective for clients willing to look at the long-term investment. “Dimmable fluorescent sources that are heavily used, like a store fixture, use a significant amount of electricity,” Stiller said. “LEDs are most cost-effective in those applications.”

Jean-Claude Fouere of Northeast Technology Associates, one of the organizers of the upcoming conference, is a technical consultant to industry in the area. He said that many of the local companies manufacturing and distributing solid-state lighting, an important business cluster in the Hudson Valley, will be represented at the conference. The agenda for the meeting includes a discussion of the industry’s growth potential in the region.

The conference is scheduled for Friday, March 8 from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the Newburgh Armory on South William Street. Presented by the Center for Global Advanced Manufacturing (CGAM), one of the state’s economic-development initiatives in the mid-Hudson region, it is being sponsored by NYSERDA and by Orange County Trust Company.

CGAM is a 501c3, not-for-profit organization that includes SunyIT, The Solar Energy Consortium (TSEC), Council for Industry (CI), Manufacturers Association of Central New York (MACNY), Hudson Valley Technology Development Center (HVTDC), Mohawk Valley Applied Technology Corporation (MVATC), and Mount Saint Mary College.

Registration is free. The website to attend is nysslconference.eventbrite.com.

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