Bridgelux is a leading developer and manufacturer of LED lighting technologies and solutions and is a pioneer in Solid State Lighting. The company is leading the evolution beyond LED chips to solid-state lighting platforms to redefine the general illumination market. In this interview, the India country head, Sunil Kaul, speaks to Dilin Anand about Bridgelux’ plans in India to transform the energy landscape using innovative LED technology.
EFY: Where is Bridgelux based from?
We are headquartered in Livermore, CA in the USA. That is where our design, development is done. We have a workforce of around 250 people globally.
EFY: Do you plan to have any R&D in India?
Not in the immediate future, but in the longer term we will explore that option. Bridgelux came to India in the summer of 2011, and we are very pleased to see the growing market opportunities here. Our primary focus will initially be on market development and providing strong application engineering support. There are several lighting companies in India that deal with traditional lighting. Now, as they move forward to solid state lighting, there are a number of subtleties in terms of how LED based products are built. Our aim therefore, is to bring value to our customers in India by helping them with application engineering and ensuring robust LED lighting products are built for local conditions here in India.
EFY: What are your future plans in India?
We are starting to explore setting up manufacturing in India and are already holding discussions. This will be in 2 phases; the first phase will focus on LED packaging wherein, we will bring in the LED chips and carry out the component assembly in India. Depending on the right economics, we might transition to the second phase, which would consist of the LED chip manufacturing itself.
EFY: Could you elaborate on the LED array?
If you look at our product, you will see that it is basically made up of individual LED dye.
Leveraging patented light source technology, we integrate these solid-state light sources to form an LED array. It is these products that enable high performance and energy-efficient products for the general lighting market. The LED chips are essentially the building blocks from which LED arrays are formed.
EFY: Could you elaborate on your product line please?
Our product line is designed keeping in mind a vast number of applications.
At the lower power end, we offer LED arrays, which can be used to build and replace a traditional 40-60 watt incandescent bulb. Similarly, if you consider CFL based products, one can replace an 18 watt CFL with a 5 watt LED. This translates to impressive power savings in homes. These products are aimed at the general consumer market.
In the mid power range (11W-50W), we have LED array solutions for the retail and hospitality industry where the requirement is for high quality lighting. We have had a number of successful installations in Europe, North America and various parts of Asia using Bridgelux arrays. These installations include hotels, retail food environments, department stores and very high-end retail.
For high lumen output applications, we have products for Industrial applications such as High Bays. This lighting is typically used in factories, warehouses etc and can be at heights as much as 13 meters. These applications therefore, require significantly more power from the light source. For such applications, we have developed LED arrays that can deliver as much as 8000 lumens using only 90 watts in one single array, replacing 250-400 watt HID lights. Needless to say, besides providing excellent quality of light, you also get the benefits of tremendous energy savings reducing consumption by nearly 50 per cent or more.
EFY: Why do you say that LED lighting is better than conventional lighting in retail stores?
LED-based lighting has multiple advantages for the retail space. First is energy efficiency. In the retail environment, store or mall lighting is on 12 to 24 hours per day. Stores see immediate savings in their operating costs due to the energy efficiency alone. Many studies have demonstrated that the quality and quantity of lighting drives store turnover. No matter how efficient the lighting, no retail outlet is going to sacrifice the quality of the store lighting. So this leads to the second advantage that LED lighting and Bridgelux arrays have in the retail space—Bridgelux arrays deliver high quality and quantity of light demanded by retail. Third, LED lighting has no heat or infrared (IR) in the beam as do metal halide or halogen technologies. This means that high quantities of light may be delivered to draw customer attention to merchandise without creating a hot, uncomfortable shopping environment. It also allows merchants to reduce the amount of HVAC cooling in the store, since less heat is being generated in the shop. Fourth, LED lighting does not produce ultraviolet (UV) radiation. This means that even under high quantities of light fruits, vegetables and meats will not spoil and fabric colours will not fade.
EFY: Is there any particular section of the market that you are focusing on?
One of the very interesting products that Bridgelux has built is designed for street lighting. In Bengaluru for instance, we have about 4 lakh streetlights. So you can imagine the energy savings when a typical 250W streetlight is replaced by LEDs that reduce consumption by 50 per cent or even by 2/3rd. In a country like India, where we are always struggling for power, using these LED solutions can contribute significantly in reducing power consumption.
EFY: Is there any particular LED technology that has greatly affected the industry?
The biggest challenge for LED manufacturers has been cost, and the entire industry has been working towards reducing the cost of LEDs. One of the high cost elements in LED manufacturing is the use of a substrate upon which the LED is built. This material is a significant factor that adds to the manufacturing cost.
Several LED players from the industry have tried to use silicon as the substrate, since this material has been around for decades and is extremely inexpensive. In addition, the extensive experience of manufacturing in silicon based substrates means that there is huge capacity and depreciated cap-ex that can be leveraged for cost. The tremendous amount of automation that exists when working with silicon can also help to reduce costs significantly.
There are significant technical problems to build an LED chip on silicon due to mismatch in the thermal coefficient of expansion. Through its technical innovation, Bridgelux has been able to solve this problem and has demonstrated crack free Gallium Nitride on Silicon. We believe this will disrupt the manufacturing cost curve for LEDs. We expect to have deployed it in the marketplace in approximately 18 months.
EFY: What challenges do you expect to face in India?
If I look at the analogy of how India went through the transition to CFL, it all started with a flood of products coming in from outside with no product standards in place. With inferior products coming in, consumers had poor experiences and consequently blamed the technology for this. Fortunately, the government stepped in and played a strong role in introducing standards which overtime, led to maturity in adoption, and brought down the prices.
LEDs are no different. While standards are being developed, it is essential for companies such as Bridgelux to work closely with lighting companies to ensure that the entire design and integration of the product, including the drivers and thermal management systems are properly selected to meet the lighting product’s requirements. Our ecosystem partnerships were put in place to ensure that high quality products were being used to build the lighting fixture. We are constantly evaluating new drivers, heat sinks and optics and ensure the same is passed on to the customer base here in India.
We all understand prices will continue to come down as sales volumes grow. In addition, Bridgelux is also looking at creating innovative business models to help speed market adoption and overcome this potential barrier for the near term.
EFY: Could you give us an example of such innovation by Bridgelux?
Bridgelux worked with a program for light bulbs along with a North American Utility company. Low cost smart chips were built in the LED light bulb. These smart chips are able to communicate with the utility company through specially developed software. When there is a high load on the grid, typically in the afternoons, the LED bulb sends out a signal to the utility company, who in turn are able to reduce the light output by 15 per cent. This decrease is not noticeable to the human eye. However, the grid sees this reduction and it creates a significant opportunity to save energy. The savings resulting from this 15 per cent reduction, more than compensates for the cost of giving away the bulb for free to the consumers. We need more of such innovative models to help stimulate the demand.
EFY: How do you aim to help transform the energy landscape?
We aim to transform the energy landscape by bringing in solid technology and deploying the right LED solutions in India. We also have a vision of bringing in long term manufacturing in the country. Our goal is to train the people in India and set up the entire ecosystem in the country. As we build application labs in India, engineers that come out of colleges in the country will start to learn about LED technology so that ultimately, we will be able to eliminate our dependency on imports. As a nation, we have to become self reliant with access to the right technology, and the manufacturing of technology. That’s the journey we are on.