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Illumination & Displays

Growth potential high in illumination and display industry

The growing popularity of energy efficient lighting, non-invasive medical diagnostic equipment, solar concentrators and other innovations means the illumination and display market--already quite large--may soon double its economic impact.

21 February 2008, SPIE Newsroom. DOI: 10.1117/2.2200802.0003

R. John Koshel, SPIE Newsroom columnistThe illumination and display industry is so large that it dwarfs most other fields of optics. Comprised of many different products such as, lighting, back-lit displays, sources, and solar concentrators, it is conservatively estimated as a $100 billion-plus industry per year.

Consider the lighting industry, for example. Figure 1 shows the value of shipments from various lighting product divisions: vehicular, residential, commercial, light bulbs, and other forms of lightings, on a yearly basis.1 Note that each of these sectors is around $3 billion US each year. Thus, from general lighting we have $15 billion per year in the United States, which can be estimated to be two to three times that when the world is considered.

Add on top of that the large and increasing size of the backlit display industry. In 2004 the TFT-LCD market was 59 million units for revenue of $29.5 billion, and in 2005 it grew to 94.2 million units for revenue of $47.1 billion.2 

Of course, all of these sectors are comprised of many other components such as electronics and packaging, but in all cases the role of the device is for illumination or conveying information to the user. So between these two industries, we have already accounted for $62 billion per year. Moreover, both of these industries are seeing increasing use of LEDs, especially high-brightness versions, for solid-state lighting solutions, such as in car taillights, laptop displays, and indicator and warning lights.

Simply said, the output of the illumination and display industry (hereafter illumination is solely used) surrounds us in our daily lives.

Figure 1. Values of shipments for vehicular lighting (right) and four other forms of lighting (left).1

Another area that involves a large amount of revenue is electricity generation. U.S. data indicates 9.4% of the generated electricity is used for residential lighting,3 and this number increases to 20% when considering all types of lighting.4 This percentage does not include other illumination products such as displays, warning lights, and so forth. Thus, conservatively, one could say that 25% of electricity generation in the United States is used for illumination purposes.

Table 1 provides the 2006 U.S. revenue, sales, and price for electricity generation in the residential, commercial, industrial, and transportation sectors.5

Table 1. 2006 US revenues, sales, and prices for electricity generation in four sectors and the totals.5
SectorRevenue (US$)Sales (MWh)Price (¢/kWh)

Additionally, the yearly data since 1990 is shown in Fig. 2 (revenue), Fig. 3 (sales), and Fig. 4 (price). In 2006, the lighting revenue per year with 9.4% utilization is $30.5 billion. With 20% utilization, it is $64.9 billion, and for the conservative estimate of 25%, it is $81.1 billion. If we include the world electricity revenue, annual lighting revenue is likely in the range of two to three times all of these values. Thus, just with TFT-LCDs, traditional lighting, and the electricity generation to run illumination products, we have more than $100 billion in revenue for the illumination industry.

Figure 2. US revenue for electricity generation for four sectors and all sectors.5

Figure 3. US sales for electricity for four sectors and all sectors.5

Figure 4. US price for electricity for four sectors and all sectors.5 Also included are forecasts (dashed lines) for the various sectors.

Though most electricity generation is done with the use of fossil fuels and hydroelectric, the use of renewable methods such as solar power is increasing. Two methods are being investigated at this time. They are flat panel methods (e.g., silicon) and concentrating photovoltaic (CPV). In CPV, nonimaging, or more loosely illumination, optics are used to concentrate the incident radiation onto multi-junction photovoltaics. In 2006, U.S. solar electricity generation amounted to 505,000 MWh, which is a decrease from the 2005 US value of 550,000 MWh.

Currently, there is a wealth of research into solar power generation, with U.S. government funding of all types of research increasing from $160 million in 2005 to $360 million in 2006.6 Continued research in CPV methods benefits the "illumination" industry in the sense that illumination products will not only use the electricity, but they will generate it. Thus, the size of the industry will increase by the expenditures to develop, manufacture, and install the CPV systems - something akin to "having your cake and eating it too!"

Although I started this column with a conservative estimate that the illumination industry amounts to $100 billion per year, I am of the opinion that this diverse industry is two to five times higher. It is difficult to quantify because of the diversity and increasing number of uses of illumination technology. For example, one can find illumination systems not only in lighting and displays but also in medical devices, personal electronics, car dashboards, and seemingly esoteric devices such as fingerprint readers. Trends for the industry also bode well for an increase in its size. For example, some hot research topics in illumination are:

  • Noninvasive/minimally invasive analyte (e.g., glucose) monitoring
  • Vehicular forward lighting using LEDs
  • Solid-state lighting (i.e., traditional lighting sources replaced by LEDs
  • Solar CPVs
  • Organic LEDs for displays

The advent of LED sources, both traditional and organic, are especially exciting in regards to the future of the display industry. These sources have the potential to increase energy efficiency and color gamut while reducing the required volume for the optical design.

Simply said, the illumination industry is something everyone relies on daily, and it is expected to keep growing, both in size and utility, in both the foreseeable and distant futures.

1. US Census 2005 Report, bulbs (NACIS code 335110, Report EC02-31I-335110), residential (NACIS code 335121, Report EC02-31I-335121), Commercial and Industrial, (NACIS code 335122, Report EC02-31I-335122), Other (NACIS code 335129, Report EC02-31I-335129), and vehicular (NACIS code 336321, Report EC02-31I-336321), http://www.census.gov/econ/census02
2. J. Cassell, iSuppli Market Watch, Soc. Inf. Displays, Boston, May 2005, http://isuppli.com/marketwatch/default.asp?id=295
3. R. Latta, Residential Lighting Use and Potential Savings, US Dept. of Energy, DOE/EIA-0555(96)/2 (1996). 
4. J. M. Davenport, R. F. Buelow, and G. P. Frankiewicz. "Opportunities for efficient fiber optics," Proceedings of SPIE 6670, Nonimaging Optics and Efficient Illumination Systems IV, R. Winston and R. J. Koshel, Eds., 667003 (2007). 
5. Energy Information Administration, US Dept. of Energy, http://www.eia.doe.gov/fuelelectric.html, (data available August 2007).
6. S. J. Eglash, "The Solar Industry-DOE and National Lab Programs to Accelerate Growth," plenary at SPIE Optics and Photonics 2007, slides available at Optics Newsroom, http://spie.org/x16283.xml?highlight=x2358 (2007).

R. John Koshel is one of several columnists who write commentary about research challenges and industry trends for the SPIE Newsroom. He is senior staff engineer for Lambda Research Corp. (Littleton, MA) and adjunct assistant professor at the College of Optical Sciences/University of Arizona (Tucson). He has chaired or co-chaired several conferences for SPIE and is co-author of Field Guide to Illumination. He also serves on the Newsroom Editorial Advisory Board.
Have a comment about illumination and displays for Dr. Koshel? Write to him at jkoshel@optics.arizona.edu.