Blue LED Nobel Prize Win Reflects Importance of Lighting for Cities and Roads

Posted by CJ Boguszewski | on October 9, 2014 on the Silver Spring Networks corporate blog … reposted here.

I connected immediately with Tuesday’s news, since Light Emitting Diodes (or LEDs) are central to some of the innovation we are driving here at Silver Spring. Professors Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano and Shuji Nakamura have been awarded the 2014 Nobel Prize in Physics for their invention of blue LEDs back in the 1990s, and I congratulate the winners. There can be fewer more important advances in physics than this one, for many reasons. Let me take a moment to detail why the blue LED, in conjunction with the green and red LEDs that had been proven more simple to produce, are viewed as “transformational enough” to award it one of the highest scientific honors on the globe.

As highlighted by Dr. Frances Saunders, the President, Institute of Physics, “With 20% of the world’s electricity used for lighting, it’s been calculated that optimal use of LED lighting could reduce this to 4%.” This stat leaps out to anyone who looks at the world’s energy consumption as one of the major issues that we face in the 21st Century. But without the blue LED, white light could not be produced and the LED would not be a widely adoptable technology for the screen that you’re likely reading this post on at this very moment. And try to imagine a world with the screens that were prevalent only a decade ago.

I’ll avoid going into the gallium nitride and crystal diameters in this blog posting. Let’s focus on the application of LEDs and in particular, lighting for cities and roads. As LED manufacturing reaches commercial scale to light up our highways and streets, the fact that they last longer means that they’re more economical to maintain, with the energy used being somewhere between one-third and one-fifth of traditional mercury or sodium lamps. Inside an LED, current is driven through a wafer of semiconductors that in turn put out a wavelength of light whose color depends on the chemical make-up of that wafer. So you get a cleaner, whiter light, at a lower wattage and for a longer running time.

Put simply, the return on investment in rolling out LEDs whose price tag has plummeted at or below “traditional” lamp prices is nearly irrefutable most everywhere in the world. Payback periods, even where the input cost of energy per kilowatt hour is extremely low, is still within the first third of the asset’s life.

And the natural extension of most technology once widely adopted is to add applications on it. In street lighting, this means a control system. The control system does two things: 1) extends the benefits that the LED alone would give you on a street lighting project, like we have seen on our project in Copenhagen, in partnership with Citelum, on its city-wide LED rollout; and 2) gives you a ‘smart city’-ready fabric into which other services can easily be woven, such as the combination of street, traffic and voltage monitoring being leveraged on the Silver Spring network in the city of Paris.

In its award citation, the Nobel Committee declared, “incandescent light bulbs lit the 20th Century; the 21st Century will be lit by LED lamps.” Connect them with the right network on an Internet of Things platform, and you will find the on-ramp to smart cities through the innovation of the world’s newest Nobel laureates.