Cree hopes to remove that hurdle. The lighting manufacturer told the WSJ this week it has halved the cost of its light-emitting-diode streetlights. The new Cree outdoor street-light unit will sell for under $200 when bought in volume, company executive Ty Mitchell said. At that price, the new streetlight bulbs would be comparable to conventional high-pressure sodium vacuum technology when -- and here's the main caveat -- maintenance and energy costs are included. Cree is able to cut the cost by producing a more efficient LED chip, allowing the company to use fewer chips in each unit.
The final crux, of course, will be performance. In other words, a cheap, efficient LED streetlight might still be overlooked if it doesn't emit an equal amount of light a good enough quality.
The cost of LED lights has already been cut in half over the past three years. LED lights use only about half the energy of the high-pressure sodium bulbs that light the streets of most U.S. cities. Still, they're twice the cost.
Other LED companies are trying to tap the streetlight market. Last month, I reported Bridgelux teamed up with Chevron Energy Solutions to retrofit streetlight in U.S. cities with LEDs. Until recently, Bridgelux focused on developing and manufacturing silicon-based LED chips and arrays, which are then sold to companies that make lighting systems. Under the partnership with CES, Bridgelux will build LED lighting modules that it has designed to be installed or upgraded quickly into existing streetlight heads.