Staying in the Paris Agreement would be the best thing for LED lighting, for all clean energies, and for the world in general.
It is thought difficult or impossible to meet the goal in the UN Climate Change Conference's Paris Agreement of holding the global average temperature increase to well below 2°C without transitioning away from traditional fossil fuels to low-carbon renewable energy. Meeting the target likely means governments must support clean energy industries through subsidies or other means. President Donald Trump’s announcement that the U.S. will withdraw from the Paris climate accord is therefore good news for the short-term interests of fossil-fuel companies, but bad news for renewable energy suppliers working in solar power, wind and hydro. It is also likely bad news for the planet as a whole, as the U.S. withdrawal will mean more pollution and global warming.
While solar and other renewable energy offers a way to completely change the source of energy to reduce carbon emissions, another way to reduce emissions is to use energy more efficiently so that the total energy used, and therefore total carbon emissions, is lower.
Most people already know that LED light bulbs use less energy than fluorescent light bulbs and a lot less than incandescent bulbs. Use of LEDs, a transformational technology, is just one way we can all reduce our energy consumption. 200 lumens/watt efficiency at the component level, considered cutting edge several years ago, is now starting to become common. LEDs just convert electricity to light much less wastefully. A 10W LED bulb can now produce about the same amount of light as a 60W incandescent bulb — that’s a big power saving of around 83% (compared to fluorescent, the saving is more like 40-50% although this varies). When you change from one to the other, you don’t just reduce the electricity cost, however. You usually reduce the associated global warming and air pollution as well as coal and other fossil fuel use. This is especially important in countries such as the U.S. where, so far, only a small portion of electricity is provided by renewables.
It’s often forgotten that component LED manufacturers such as Cree, Everlight, LG Innotek, Lumileds, MLS, Nichia, Osram Opto, Samsung, Seoul Semiconductor and many others have helped greatly reduce not just carbon emissions but also air pollution by bringing their cool new transformational technology to the market. Every day they are working to help people cut their carbon emissions without having to reduce their energy use. Every year their products get more and more efficient, which means they are better and better for the environment. Lighting companies such as Philips, Osram, Acuity and many others have also helped by steadily transitioning to LED lamps and luminaires.
However, the LED lighting industry remains a difficult one to be in. Too much competition has led to low prices and it is can be challenging to make a profit. So companies need assistance from governments worldwide.
The argument that LEDs are less expensive than traditional technologies becomes stronger all the time as the products get more efficient, however that is still only true based on total cost of ownership including energy consumption in the years after installation. Many customers will still be deterred by the up-front investment cost — especially for home residential use where it may be a choice of, for example, $5 for an LED light bulb versus $1 for an alternative.
Governments will often be challenged to address air pollution issues, or to reduce climate change. It is hoped that they realize that promoting LED lighting by offering subsidies to reduce the upfront purchase cost is one way to do this. LED lighting is not the first thing that people think of in a discussion about reducing air pollution and climate change but it is a part of the puzzle.
Governments have already offered many subsidies for the LED lighting industry, as well as helped by banning some high-wattage bulbs in some countries, and the industry should be thankful for that. Even more subsidies would lead to further adoption of LED lighting, and further reduction of air pollution and climate change. Subsidies for clean energy and other subsidies can, if done correctly, help to create a just society where customers aren’t forced to choose between what’s less expensive and what’s ethically best.
Subsidies are more likely to be given, however, if governments can be convinced that they are necessary to help meet targets that they have already agreed to. Staying in the Paris Agreement, whether for the US or any country, would be the best thing for LED lighting, for all clean energies, and for the world in general.
—Jamie Fox is a principal analyst for LEDs and other optoelectronic components at IHS Markit. Jamie, holds a BSc in physics and astronomy and a Masters degree in nanoscale science and technology.