The other day I picked up a new book at the library called Brilliant! Shuji Nakamura And the Revolution in Lighting Technology, by Bob Johnstone. Along with LED pioneer and inevitable Nobel laureate Nakamura, the book is brilliant. Though its focus is understandably the residential, commericial, and architectural use of light (in fact, the only references to theater lighting I have found thus far are conversations about how many architectural lighting designers come from a theater background), the book has a lot to say about the LED revolution that is really on the brink of changing so many energy crises around the world. One lighting industry insider is quoted as describing the state of LEDs this way: “Solid state lighting is literally flailing around like a hose that you’re gripping five feet from the end.”
Aside from Nakamura’s astounding (and nearly unbelievable) lone discoveries and advancements with the technology of the future in the backwoods of Japan, the coolest part of the narrative revolves around the Lexel, an amazing new way of lighting the world around us. There are many things that make the Lexel (the name is a shortening of “ligt emitting pixel”) such a hopeful and revolutionary idea, but here is a sampling direct from Johnstone’s book:
1. it needs no warm up, and comes on instantly.
2. it does not flicker
3. “its beam can be changed from narrow to wide simply by inserting a low-cost plastic lens.”
4. it can be set to any color temperature
5. “remarkably,” Johnstone writes, “it can hold exactly that color as you dim the fixture.”
6. it’s most powerful version produces 1000 lumens.
Now all of this means very little for theater folks. Such a light is nowhere near ready for typical theatrical applications. But the idea that such a light has been developed, essentially poised to take the place of the ubiquitous Edison technology that has been the norm of the household light bulb for over a century, is great news.
In case you’re wondering what else is so great about this technology, let Johnstone explain: conventional light bulbs waste “95 percent of their output in the form of heat.” LEDs on the other hand consume about 80 percent less energy than conventional incandescent light bulbs. They also last for 100,000 hours, or as Johnstone writes, “effectively forever.”
Johnstone also makes clear what a switch to LEDs would do for us, up to our necks as we are in an energy crisis: “Since lighting accounts for around a quarter of electricity usage, replacing conventional lights with LEDs would dramatically cut our energy consumption,” he writes. “In the United States, by far the world’s largest user of electricity, energy consumption would decline by almost 30 percent.” And: “By switching to solid-state lighting, consumers might expect to save $125 billion over the next twenty years.” He goes on to explain the ripple effect of such a major switch, including the elimination of the need for more conventional power, such as coal-fired plants. This, in turn would lead to a dramatic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions. Want more? Okay: “In addition,” he writes, “LEDs are instrinsically environmentally friendly.” Why? They are not toxic–unlike the now popular compact fluorescent bulbs–which means they aren’t going to further pollute the planet at the end of their useful lives.
The good news of LEDs goes on and on, and I thank Bob Johnstone for writing such a fantastic book on the subject. Let’s keep our fingers crossed on this one.