The cumulative number of light emitting diodes (LEDs) installed across the United States has soared during the past two years—topping 215 million at the end of 2014 according to DOE’s latest data. That’s good for the environment (the amount of source energy needed to power the more efficient LEDs is about 143 trillion British thermal units less than the previous status quo) and consumers (savings topped an estimated $1.4 billion annually in 2014)—but not for growth-starved electric utilities. And, this is just the beginning of a transition that poses serious problems for utilities already grappling with long-term slow-growth forecasts.
In its latest assessment of the LED market (Adoption of Light-Emitting Diodes in Common Lighting Applications, which can be found here), DOE notes that “the adoption of LEDs in general illumination applications is just beginning.” Specifically, while the 215 million figure represents a quadrupling of the number of LEDs installed in just two years, it still amounts to just 3 percent of the U.S. market, which is pegged at some seven billion lighting fixtures.
In a blue sky projection, DOE estimates that if all seven billion lights could be replaced overnight with LEDs, the source energy savings would skyrocket to just under 4,900 trillion Btu (roughly 4.9 quads)—saving customers about $49 billion a year. While we won’t get there overnight, that is the direction we are headed, a direction bound to cause a significant amount of concern in utility C-suites nationwide. (For an earlier analysis of the LED threat, please see this story.)