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Are new light sources leaving us in the dark?

David Mooney | 19 Aug 2015 | Comments

Our relentless development of new light sources carries on at a pace. We have LEDs, OLEDs, PLEDs, and now nanotechnology has stepped up to the plate to give us graphene LEDs, the world’s smallest light source.

The development of new technologies like this is wondrous, but do we have the lighting standards in place to make their use safe and are they truly commercially viable?

At the recent International Commission on Illumination four yearly sessional meeting in Manchester, the home of graphene, the world’s leading lighting specialists discussed the latest research and developments. They concluded that the way we measure and regulate lighting needs to change so that we can make the most of the benefits of the lighting solutions we have already: a wider colour spectrum, lower power consumption, dimming/light control and colour changing. If we do this, and do it well, we can make new lighting technologies available to consumers – at an affordable price – and really drive our ambition for a zero carbon built environment. But at the moment, the pace of change of lighting technology is leaving both our metrics and our standards framework in its wake. Whilst safety legislation is always quick and reactive, quality standards tend to lag behind.

So I’m wondering – do we really have the knowledge we need to control and exploit new technologies like graphene LED, or are we just throwing the proverbial dice? You might think that bad lighting never killed anyone, but whether it’s too much or too little light on the road, the shadows created by an unshielded light source hiding a mugger, or the uncontrolled photo-biological effects of blue light, light can be a dangerous thing when it’s not measured and controlled correctly. Having the right standards in place across the worldwide lighting industry is the best way to make sure this doesn’t happen.

We need lighting standards that are international, unambiguous, free of political and commercial pressures and updated as regularly as possible. In commercial lighting there is still no comprehensive framework of international standards that allows design professionals to make informed decisions. Quality and cost comparisons of lighting products are very challenging and might even be called ‘a shot in the dark’ for those who do not have a comprehensive understanding of lighting.

We need new technologies like graphene LEDS to challenge the status quo, but we also need to make sure our standards don’t fall even further behind. I expect to see graphene LEDs make an immediate impact in the consumer electronics and automotive sectors but with a significantly slower uptake in the commercial architectural sector. My question for you is: will the development of lighting standards, that provide the level of safety and security we need to commercialise new lighting sources, always lag behind technology? And if they do, what’s the risk of that these new technologies will leave us in the dark and are you willing to throw the dice?