cleantech insights

All of the Lights: Not LEDs, says Lumiette

Josh Gould

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


Is 5 the magic number for LEDs?

Emma Ritch

Lighting is responsible for about 7% of the carbon emitted by the U.S., and yet nearly all the lighting in buildings comes from technologies that are 5% to 30% efficient, leaving vast room for improvement. Consider for a moment how that compares to other energy users in a building—the energy conversion efficiency of heating is typically 70%, while electric motors are 85% to 95%.

That’s why there’s so much interest in LEDs, which are just a fraction of installed lighting sources today but expected to make up 80% of the general illumination market by 2020. Today LEDs are 20% to 30% energy efficient, but that’s improving at a rapid pace. There are also design and control advantages to LEDs that increase the overall efficiency of the system. However, the upfront cost is still much higher than traditional lighting technologies, and many manufacturer claims about the longevity of LEDs have yet to be seen in real-world applications.

But the buzz about LEDs is only getting stronger. Much like Moore’s Law for integrated circuits, Haitz’s Law says that process optimization is cutting the cost per lumen of LEDs by a factor of 10 every 10 years while the amount of light …

Another win for lighting controls as Redwood closes $15M round

Emma Ritch

Fremont, Calif.-based startup Redwood Systems revealed today it closed a $15 million Series B round for its LED lighting control system, coming on the heels of a $12.7 million Series B for Lumenergi, a lighting controls startup based in nearby Newark, California.

The two companies are illustrative of a fast-growing sub-sector within lighting that’s gaining investor support and market adoption. Lighting controls companies secured 16% of VC investment within lighting from 2005 to 2010, but that’s jumped to 21% in 2009 and 2010 to-date.

Source: Cleantech Group analysis

Why all the interest? Lighting is considered the low-hanging fruit for energy efficiency retrofits, as illumination accounts for  44% of electricity in U.S. office buildings and a quarter of the energy in residential buildings–roughly the same energy consumed by cooling. Lighting controls–including software, sensors, drivers, fixtures, and intelligent ballasts–can maximize energy efficiency of multiple lighting sources, with some vendors claiming up to 75% reduction in energy use due to controls technology.

Redwood offers a unique lighting control system that combines power and control of LEDs over the same low-voltage data cable for office buildings and data centers. While adoption of LEDs is projected to increase to about 80% of the …

Small step for Bridgelux, giant leap for US LED industry?

Emma Ritch

Livermore, Calif.-based lighting startup Bridgelux opened its U.S. factory last week, emphasizing the potential that still exists for LED developers in the United States to be competitive with China.

The key word? Potential. Only 20% of the U.S. factory is dedicated to serving U.S. customer demand, COO Karl Chicca told me. The remainder is focused on R&D and trials of LED materials, chips and packages that can produce brighter, more compact and lower-cost lights.

Chicca said the goal is to increase production at the factory to meet domestic demand…if it comes. Otherwise Bridgelux will use Livermore for R&D and manufacturing its most proprietary technology, while using partners in Asia for the bulk of production. So much for the good news that Bridgelux’s factory is the first new fab to open in 25 years in the San Francisco Bay Area, right?

The plant has brought has 170 employees and a $3.6 million-a-month payroll to Livermore, with plans to add 100 staff members in the next year. But Bridgelux CEO Bill Watkins said Bridgelux could have a significantly larger impact on the community, given the right government policy.

“It’s more important than jobs, it’s about building an industry, people, ” Watkins said.…

Bridgelux reveals corporate partner and new LED light

Emma Ritch

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based LED developer Bridgelux plans to announce tomorrow a new strategic corporate partnership that could reduce the cost and time to market for its solid-state lighting (SSL) products.

CEO Bill Watkins told the Cleantech Group that Bridgelux has jointly developed the Helieon Sustainable Light Module with Lisle, Ill.-based Molex (Nasdaq:MOLX), a 71-year-old manufacturer of electronic, electrical and fiber optic interconnection systems.

The partners created a fixture-mounted light-emitting diode (LED) product that is sold to lamp and lighting fixture companies to incorporate in luminaires.

The product is geared toward general illumination, a $100 billion per year opportunity. Despite the LED sector’s promise of a potential 80 percent reduction in energy use compared to standard incandescent lighting, the sector has made small progress in gaining market share because of the high upfront costs and unique design requirements.

Watkins and Mike Picini, Molex’s vice president of solid-state lighting, said this product could be a game-changer because it is between 30 percent and 50 percent lower in cost than comparable downlighting LED technologies. Watkins also said the product has several advantages over compact fluorescent lighting, which he described as “crappy design, lousy light, and it has mercury and lead.”

The deal …

New Bridgelux CEO talks IPO future

Emma Ritch

Sunnyvale, Calif.-based LED developer Bridgelux said today it raised an additional $50 million in venture equity for its Series D financing, bringing the oversubscribed round to $80 million in equity.

The announcement coincides with the appointment of new CEO Bill Watkins, who joins the company from Seagate Technology, where he was CEO.

Former Bridgelux CEO Mark Swoboda is remaining with the company as president to lead product development, R&D, sales and marketing.

Aside from senior staff, Bridgelux employees have not yet been notified of the change, which is expected to be announced tomorrow at 5 a.m. PST.

“It’s not a change of direction but a change in the slope and vector,” said Marc van den Berg, managing director of VantagePoint Venture Partners, in an interview with the Cleantech Group. “The current CEO has done a great job positioning the company, and now it’s about ramping the company on a global scale.”

VantagePoint led the new round, which included funding from all existing investors, including DCM, El Dorado Ventures, VentureTech Alliance, Chrysalix Energy Venture Capital, and Harris & Harris Group. New, unnamed investors also participated, Watkins said, including an undisclosed strategic investor.

Watkins noted that his 30 years …

Rubicon rides LED boom

Emma Ritch

Shares of Franklin Park, Ill.-based Rubicon Technologies (Nasdaq:RBCN) hit a 52-week high today following a report from Canaccord Adams analyst Jed Dorsheimer that doubled the price target for the LED-component maker.

The stock closed at $15.68, slightly down from the high, but still reflecting a 44 percent gain during the past two weeks. Dorsheimer set a new price target of $22, up from $11, and changed his rating from ‘hold’ to ‘buy’.

Dorsheimer attributed the outlook to the boom in demand for LED backlight for liquid crystal display televisions.

“The faster-than-expected ramp of LED LCD backlighting, which began a few months ago, caught the LED manufacturers off guard,” he said in the report.

Earlier this year, LED makers’ production rates were at less than 30 percent of their capacity after year-over-year pricing declines of 50 percent, he said. Now, costs have stabilized and the manufacturers are at nearly 100 percent utilization of production facilities, he said.

Rubicon makes a sapphire crystal used in the production of LEDs. Dorsheimer said Rubicon is likely using more than 80 percent of its factory capacity, up from 60 percent at the end of the second quarter.

The likely impact in the LED …