Secret Scotland

If it's secret, and in Scotland…

Fifty years old today – the LED

I had no real idea of the age of the LED (light emitting diode) or, more embarrassingly, who the inventor was.

Unlike the transistor, which I think now has a widely known history, when asked, I did not even know if there was one person who had the invention of the LED against their name, or if it was maybe an anonymous corporate credit with nobody behind it.

Fortunately, we can all give a nod to Nick Holonyak Jr, who created the LED while working at General Electric, 50 years ago today, and spoke of his creation on its half century:

I never really thought about it.

I got my first LED as free gift, in a plastic bag stuck on the front of one of electronics hobby magazines I used to devour when I was a tiny person. It was in a transparent red plastic transistor casing, which look very odd since it only had two legs instead of the usual three. In those days, apart from things like arcs or gas discharge lamps of various types, I think the only (practical) way to make electric light was via a nice hot incandescent lamp, so the first time I powered up a cold LED and got light was something special.

A little later, I went to work part-time selling electronic components, and was amazed to see that they had boxes loaded with red, green, amber, and yellow LEDs (but to be honest most of them looked the same), and their brightness, even the ones labelled ‘High Brightness’ left a lot to be desired. I left that job far behind before the world ever saw a blue LED, or a white one.

And now we’re on the crest of a wave that has white LEDs of any colour you might ever want, able to produce any variation of cold or warm white to suit your mood, and able to match the now outlawed incandescent 100 watt light bulb.

The really sad thing about this is that there is a bunch of retards fighting for the old white-hot filament lamps as if they were the greatest light source the world ever saw. I suspect they are the same loonies that mount campaigns against CFL (compact fluorescent lamps). Granted that the CFL has been badly manufactured by a number of companies, but that is not the lamp’s fault, and most of the complaints levelled against it may have a shred of truth, but they are not really down to the lamp, but the production – and I suspect a few bad examples being repeated in so many stories to build a few problems into an apparent mass.

It can’t happen of course, but I would really like to have seen the loonies who campaign against CFLs and LED lights being presented with incandescent light bulbs as replacements for them, had those been invented first.

I’m willing to bet that they would not be fighting for incandescents and rubbishing CFLs and LEDs. Far from it – they would be jumping up and down and calling the inventor a madman, and a dangerous one at that, expecting people to light their homes with such a fire hazard which had a bare white-hot filament that could set things on fire if the fragile glass envelope was broken, and electrocute people with the live metal such a breakage exposed. And they would have moaned interminably about the amount of electricity it wasted in heat, and how it lasted only for 1,000 hours  (if you were lucky) as opposed to 25,000 or even 50,000 for a LED. Even the CFL manages 5,000 to 8,000 – IF manufactured properly.

I can only see one problem with the domestic LED lighting revolution…

With those lives of 25,000 hours and upwards, the manufacturers are really hammering the poor LED lamp buyer at the till, with prices that are currently anything from 4 to 10 times greater than the CFL price. And even more if the LED lamp is in any way fancy or decorative.

We benefited from subsidised prices when there was a drive to replace energy hungry incandescent lamps with CFLs a few years ago – I was buying them 5 or 10 at a time to make sure I had spares on hand, and was paying only 10 pence per lamp. The same lamps are now selling for around £3 today.

And if I want an LED version?

Unless I buy from the pound shops (and some actually do have them, although they are not very good) then I can expect to pay anything from £7 to £27 for the largest – the magical 100 watt equivalent. I know that counts as over-pricing, because I’m in the trade that sells the components inside these lamps, and what they cost in quantity. And I would not normally even mention this, as this early high price is justified to pay for the research and development, but somehow… I just don’t think the price of these new LED domestic lights will ever come down (much).


October 10, 2012 - Posted by | Civilian | , ,

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