Monday, October 25, 2010

Lighting news for investors

The lighting business is changing rapidly and that is creating opportunities for investors. Traditional companies are adapting rapidly or being left behind and new-tech companies are proving their worth or having short lives. Innovation is rampant and there is no clear technology or industry leader yet.

+Incandescent light bulbs are 130 years old, waste 90% of the energy used as heat rather than light and are on the way out in the U.S. The last plant making the bulbs in North America is closed. Companies in the lighting business are very much on-board with the change and ready to move forward.

+Rep. Joe Barton of Texas has introduced a bill to repeal President Bush’s energy efficiency standards but it is getting no traction. Others will try to get around the new reality in different ways-one German businessman is trying to sell incandescent bulbs as “heat balls”. Expect more creative sales techniques as the phase-out deadlines get closer.

+There is no single leader in the battle to replace the incandescent bulb. Compact fluorescents(CFL’s) are an established technology with a low price-point but contain mercury and other toxic components. LED’s are growing in popularity but are still quite expensive even though their long working life makes them cheap over the long-term. High intensity discharge(HID) metal halide bulbs have some advantage of their own for certain application. Combinations of the above are beginning to appear(halogen-CFL by General Electric). Organic light emitting diode(OLED) technology is just beginning to enter the lighting field and should have advantages in some areas.

+Research and innovation will continue. General Electric now has an LED bulb that uses jet engine technology to cool the LED’s instead of aluminum heat sinks. New technologies and new applications of existing technologies will allow new lighting products to come to market. There might never be just one “standard” type of light such as the incandescent bulb was for so many years. And that is not necessarily a bad thing.

Adapting firms that will retain a strong presence in the lighting industry are General Electric(GE) and Philips(PHG). The strongest player so far in the LED lighting field is Cree Inc.(CREE). Others in the industry are all jostling for position. A very large and unanswered part of the equation is consumer sentiment and how the public will spend its dollar/voting power. There will be more than a few winners and early investors, as always, will reap the greatest rewards.

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