Light emitting diodes last forever and consume hardly any power, and are small and cheap enough to go anywhere. The fact that this invention is so ancient may surprise you, as it’s only the past decade that it’s added so much to our lives, from subtle room lighting to extraordinary smartphone and TV displays. Sometimes it feels as if new technology rushes at us at a bewildering pace – but in fact the most revolutionary technologies can take decades to develop and mature. It was only in 1993 that the first “blue light” LED was created, after years of painstaking chemistry – an achievement honoured in 2014 with a Nobel Prize for Physics. (Isamu Akasaki, the chief scientist, died in April.) In 2008, eager to make an impact on energy consumption, the European Commission introduced the Ecodesign Directive, which would phase out energy guzzling incandescent and halogen bulbs by 2012. The Commission’s memo explaining the directive mentions LED bulbs only in passing – they have only a “quite low light output”, it sniffed, while acknowledging that compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs would be the winner. But CFL bulbs were crude and dangerous – they contained mercury. They triggered migraines, and emitted a light so harsh it was the equivalent of giving everyone in the room one of those humiliating full body scanners employed by airport security. As a result, Britons stockpiled incandescent light bulbs. The United States took a smarter approach. The Department of Energy ran a competition called the L Prize, which was won in August 2011 by a Philips LED. Today, two thirds of light bulbs sold in the UK are LEDs, and demand for CFLs in domestic lighting has all but disappeared. General Electric stopped making CFLs five years ago. The EU was in too much of a hurry, and that three-year window proved to be crucial. After decades of scientific struggle, an innovation finally emerged that was highly attractive to consumers.
Telegraph 2nd Aug 2021 read more »