Even those with only cursory exposure to the lighting industry have heard about LEDs (light-emitting diodes). Extremely energy efficient and manufactured in a process analogous to semi-conductors, LEDs have spawned a tremendous amount of corporate activity – from heavyweights like Philips making major LED pushes, to high profile startups like Bridgelux and Lemnis Lighting (all of which we cover in our lighting industry analysis here).
But despite all the LED hype – which is particularly strong here in an innovation hub like Silicon Valley – has anyone stopped to recognize that over 80% of the installed base of lights are still “old school” fluorescents and incandescents? And have all those LED enthusiasts encountered some of the (admittedly debatable) complaints about LED light color and quality? Further, does anyone realize that the biggest ESCOs like Johnson Controls are still almost entirely swapping old fluorescent fixtures for newer ones, instead of installing LEDs or fancy lighting controls systems?
Lumiette is a Silicon Valley based flourescent lighting startup playing to these contrarian facts. Founded in 2007 by lighting and semiconductor industry veterans, the company has IP around an ultra-efficient, flat panel lamp with cathodes on the exterior; moving the electrode from the inside to the outside of the lamp, and ensuring that no filaments need to be evaporated. The result is 50 lumens per watt (many LEDs are 45), a lamp life of 25,000 hours, which is nearly 5 times the life of a traditional dimming CFL. But Lumiette’s device will retail for a similar price of $16-18, compared to LEDs which are anywhere from mid $30s to $40s. From a $5.6 million Series A, the company has developed manufacturing facilities in Korea, a strategic partnership in China, and is selling through distributors. The company is currently looking for $5M in a Series B.
Before we all jump on the Lumiette/CFL train, let’s keep in mind that LEDs have been decreasing in price 20-25% annually, and steadily improving performance. It’s not clear whether Lumiette can accomplish the same feat. Moreover, like many lighting companies, Lumiette will have to adopt a go-to-market strategy that accounts for the dominance of large lighting companies in the sales and distribution channels, and find a capital-efficient way to scale its manufacturing and production. Nevertheless, it’s heartening to see that lighting industry innovation extends beyond the LED and the lighting control system. To achieve real cost and energy savings in buildings and homes, we will need all lighting weapons at our disposal – LEDs, control systems, and yes – the boring, old fluorescent.
Josh Gould is a Director at Cleantech Group.
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