In the most comprehensive analysis of the lifecycle of lighting to date, the Department of Energy (DOE) concludes LEDs have a significantly lower environmental impact than incandescents, and only a slight edge over compact fluorescents.
DOE analyzed the energy and environmental impacts of manufacturing, assembly, transport, operation, and disposal of these three lighting types.
"The report finds that the energy these lighting products consume during operation makes up the majority of their environmental impact, compared to the energy consume in manufacturing and transportation," says the DOE.
Because of their high efficiency, LEDs (aka light emitting diodes) have the smallest environmental footprint, leading in 14 of the 15 measurements studied in DOE's "LED Manufacturing and Performance" report.
And in five years, the environmental impacts of LEDs will be significantly lower than today's LED products, based on expected near-term improvements in technology.
Both LEDs and fluorescents have challenges when it comes to disposal at end of life. Fluorescents, which contain small amounts of mercury, must be properly disposed of, and preferably recycled.
The aluminum contained in an LED lamp's large aluminum heat sink causes a greater impact on landfills because of the energy and resources consumed in manufacturing.
Big Sales Projected for Intelligent Lighting
Roughly 25% of the energy consumed in commercial buildings relates to lighting, and that's expected to almost triple global sales for intelligent lighting controls by 2020.
Lighting controls offer significant potential for reducing energy use and new technologies are enabling a wide range of options, from room-level sensing to building-wide fully networked systems.
Globally, the market for lighting controls will rise from $1.5 billion in 2012 to over $4.3 billion in 2020, says Pike Research.
"New strategies for intelligent lighting are beginning to gain broad acceptance by building owners and managers at the same time that building codes and regulations are increasingly mandating greater efficiency in buildings," says Eric Bloom, senior analyst for Pike Research. "This confluence of events creates a strong growth environment for companies in the space, particularly those that provide lighting control in the context of broader building energy management solutions."
In particular, new wireless technologies and lower prices for LED lights and dimmable ballasts are making lighting retrofits considerably more attractive.
As LEDs become more mainstream, lighting controls - in the form of standalone devices or systems integrated into light fixtures - will help maximize their benefits.
The number of existing buildings in developed countries, where these technologies have already gained acceptance, is quite large, and the pool of buildings that could benefit from lighting control retrofits in the developing world is vast.
While North America will remain the largest market for intelligent lighting controls through the end of the decade, the most rapid growth will come in Asia Pacific, where revenues will rise at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 21%.
Here is DOE's lifecycle report: