Friday, 29 July 2011

Don't be LED astray... search, and you will find the light!

For the past couple of years I've been searching for decent lights to put in the house. I don't have particularly difficult requirements: energy efficiency, low cost and aesthetic pleasance.

LEDs seem to best meet these requirements, but one obvious problem is the timing. Just in the two years of planning, LEDs have gone from monochromes that the Chinese were adding to disposable toys onto the shelves of shops to replace incandescent bulbs and into traffic lights and a whole range of applications. Certainly they have been in camping shops for a while. This is an area where people have always paid a premium for light weight and a long lifetime. LEDs remain far from standard in domestic electrical installation, but I'm sure this will change in the next five years.

Since their invention in 1962, efficiency and light output of LEDs has been increasing exponentially, roughly following Moore's law, which predicts a doubling every 36 months, which has been renamed Haitz's law for the LED. The costs of materials are probably already below those for incandescents or fluorescents, and it's only a matter of time before the other costs of the industrial infrastructure are accommodated, and prices can come down. As of summer 2011, I'm still set to pay an early adopter tax.

The architect has been bringing electrical drawings with some details of the light fittings. Each fitting has a listed price. Apparently, the electricians get them for about 80% of this, which will be charged to the builder and come out of our budget. If I look around online for the same products, I can probably get them for about 40%. This would save money and help the budget (already a million yen over, a month later than the date on the contract, and the end is still a couple of months away). 

"Made in Japan" syndrome seems to come in, and the architect's and electrician's choices are usually limited to Japanese manufacturers. While Japanese manufacturing is world-class and world-leading in many areas, I don't think LEDs is one of them. South Korean, Chinese and Taiwanese companies all seem to be ahead in cost and performance. 

The kitchen maker had billed us 30,000 yen for three pucklights to be fitted under the shelf above the counter on the other side of the kitchen sink. I found the same kind of thing for $27 on Amazon, roughly 10% of the cost, so I ordered them and they'll arrive in a couple of weeks. 

Cree, in the US, have been making LED lights for a while and they have some good ones. They are difficult to find in Japan, but not impossible. has a load of LED bulbs and fittings avaialble, but most of them announce: We are not able to ship this item to your default shipping address.

Searching in English reveals a lot of Australian sites. I suppose low energy lighting makes sense there, if nothing else because LED's don't attract insects. I remember a friend of mine talking about a relative's family down under who would all sit around the house, of an evening, each with an LED head torch on, reading their own books. Possibly not typical though!

Searching in Japanese presents more of a challenge, but I used electrical appliance finder, which took me to Ecoloia on Rakuten, which has a pretty good range of LEDs. The problem I have now is keeping track of all those mouse clicks, and remembering which site gave which price for which product, and taking into account all the details of tax and free shipping to check that the deal is not going to evaporate.

In general it's difficult to be sure what I'm getting as they don't always include information such as brightness (in Lumens) and the CRI (colour rending index - 演色性). Which you will see is important when I get to my post on the meaning of colour; as difficult to come to terms with as the meaning of life.

They have some nice ones here: although a lack of prices, which makes me suspicious.