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Green Technology: A lighting revolution




Thomas Edison left a lighting legacy that changed the world. For over two centuries, his incandescent light bulbs reigned supreme. However, the efficiency of this conventional bulb has changed little since its invention in 1879.

Incandescent bulbs work on the very simple premise that when metal is heated sufficiently, it lights up. Electricity is the energy used to heat the tungsten filament in the bulb and unfortunately, only 10 per cent of that electricity is actually converted into light. The rest produces heat. This makes the bulbs highly inefficient and has resulted in the incandescent bulb often being referred to as a ‘heater that gives off light’.

Increasing concerns for the environment and requirements for better energy saving options have driven the worldwide search for a better technology that efficiently converts energy to light.  Over the years many technologies evolved. The compact fluorescent lamp (CFL) is one such example.  

However, the downside of such technologies is their hostility to the environment.  For example, CFLs contain mercury, which is poisonous. Disposal of such lamps also poses a major challenge and is certainly an environmental nightmare.

CFLs and fluorescent light bulbs are now at the peak of the technology curve in terms of energy efficiency. Fortunately, a technology that has the answer to energy efficiency without all the downsides of environmental issues is fast emerging: light emitting diodes - LED. It is revolutionary, and is believed to be the next major shift in lighting standards worldwide.

A new lighting industry emerges: The LED industry was born out of a merger between the semiconductor and lighting industries. When first developed, LEDs were associated with traffic signs, architectural and decorative lights, and backlighting for TVs, computers and mobile phones.

Today, LED technology has taken a quantum leap and LED products are lauded as the next generation option for public, industrial, commercial and household lighting.

“There has been a global shift towards pursuing better technologies that promote energy efficiency,” says Lee Choo Boo, Group MD and CEO of ItraMAS Group. “We need better energy saving options to replace incandescent bulbs and therefore CFLs and LED are certainly the way to go.”

The Ministry of Energy, Green Technology and Water announced the phasing out of incandescent bulbs in Malaysia that will culminate in their ban in 2014, in line with worldwide trend. “This ban is timely and indicates the Malaysian government’s commitment to energy efficiency and savings,” says Lee.

A home-grown company, ItraMAS understands how difficult it will be for Malaysians to shift their mindset from the glowing tungsten filament as a light source to LEDs. “People are wary of change. That is why knowledge and awareness of LEDs is of paramount importance,” stresses Lee.

Understanding LED: A good starting point is to realise that LED lights consume far less energy than any other form of lighting. They also last longer, generate little or no heat, are mercury-free and are environmentally friendly.

As with all light bulbs, LEDs produce illumination by converting a specific amount of electricity into light. “The use of semiconductor materials in LEDs completes this conversion more efficiently than any other lighting technology. As a result, LEDs use only 20 per cent of electricity compared to traditional incandescent lights. This can mean a reduction of up to 80 per cent in lighting costs for each Malaysian household when they switch to LED lighting.

LEDs are also durable and can last for up to 20 years if the bulbs are used for seven hours a day on the average. “So the LED light bulbs that you install when your child starts kindergarten will last right through to when they graduate from university,” says Lee. “The only disadvantage here is that your child may never learn how to change a light bulb.”

Another significant advantage of LED lights is that the beam is directional. This means the light emitted is focused on the desired direction of illumination and very little is wasted or dispersed elsewhere. Also, unlike all other lighting, LEDs are mercury-free making them completely safe for the environment.

Choosing the best light: One of the issues for consumers is choosing the best lighting for each setting. What is the desired brightness? Cool light or warm light? Standard or dimmable bulbs?

ItraMAS has developed and expanded the application of LED technology. Under its Q-RAY range, consumers can choose replacement products for incandescent bulbs, halogen bulbs, recessed down lights, fluorescent tubes and desk lamps. There is a style and a model for every conceivable aspect or lighting preference in the home, workplace and even outdoors.

There is one important element that the consumers will need to learn and get used to when choosing between LED lights: LED light bulb packages label the bulb’s brightness in lumens.

In comparing different light bulbs and deciding which one is most suitable, one has to understand this term. Lumens are a measurement of the total amount of light while watts, which people generally associate with light, are a measurement of how much energy is used by the light bulb.

One of the changes consumers will have make to their selection process is to select lights by brightness and not by energy use. A bulb with a high lumens count and low wattage is therefore desirable. It means more light for every watt put in, a term called efficacy in the LED industry. The higher the efficacy, the more the energy saving.

When reading the labels, the consumer will also have to remember that the higher the lumen count the brighter the light. One other thing to look for is quality assurance marks like SIRIM, CE, ENERGY STAR, UL, IESNA and so on, and accreditation from reputable authorities.

“LEDs may initially appear to be expensive, but with a lifespan of 20 years coupled with electricity bill savings, this cost can be recouped within a very short period,” says Lee. “In the long run, this technology will save money, not just for individuals, but for businesses and society as a whole.”


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