LEDs, or light emitting diodes, are all around you. They’re in your smart phone, motor vehicles, tablets, microwave ovens, wide-screen TVs and traffic lights. And they’re being introduced for general illumination of businesses, homes and public spaces like never before.

LEDs represent the one of the biggest innovations in lighting since incandescent bulbs were introduced more than 125 years ago. This is because the light can be controlled without losing the energy efficiency of fluorescent lighting and it also is affordable. These factors are contributing to an expectation that the LED industry will grow to $42 billion by 2019.

So what’s behind the surge?

LEDs are energy efficient and consume about 85 percent less power than traditional incandescent bulbs. For example, a 60-watt incandescent lamp can be replaced with a 9-watt LED lamp and deliver the same quality of light, while extending its service life to 25,000 hours and providing an 85 percent energy savings.

Despite these benefits and a U.S. Department of Energy plan to effectively phase out less efficient incandescent light bulbs by 2020, many businesses, municipalities and consumers resisted the shift to LEDs initially because of high costs that include the cost of converting fixtures to accommodate LEDs. Now that the cost of adoption is dropping, the switch is becoming much simpler and cost effective.

“In the last few years, LED prices have plunged dramatically throughout the world,” said Juan Caamano, a UL principal engineer. “Just three years ago, a ‘60-watt equivalent’ LED light bulb might cost 25 dollars. Today you can find that same bulb for 10 dollars, or even less.”

An unexpected driver in the rise of LEDs is the introduction of retrofit kits, which make it easy to connect LED technology with current lighting fixtures (luminaires) in homes and facilities. These kits also make the switch more economical and limit the costly electrical infrastructure changes.

Although using existing luminaires for LED products is an imperfect solution, it offers the quickest path to substantial energy savings. Incorrect installations may cause a short circuit to the luminaire and is the reason lighting manufacturers are having their kits become UL certified to an array of standards, including:

  • UL 1598 – addresses the safety of all luminaires used in non-hazardous settings.
  • UL 8750 – addresses the safety of LED technology within luminaires including lighting components. (This standard also covers LED components, such as drivers, controllers, arrays and modules.)
  • UL 1993 – addresses self-ballasted lamps or adaptors, respectively.
  • UL 1598C – addresses the retrofit kit and installation requirements for luminaires specifically parts replacement, rewiring and relabeling, and even includes requirements for special LED replacement lamps intended to operate directly from existing fluorescent ballasts.

In addition to the kits becoming UL certified, Caamano says only qualified electricians should install them to avoid any potential hazard. DIYers believe that the installation is easy and the proliferation of product-specific YouTube videos on retrofitting luminaires only compounds the problem. They lull consumers into a false sense of confidence about their abilities to personally manage a potentially dangerous installation.

UL Certified lighting retrofit kits can be verified in UL’s Online Certification Database at http://iq.ul.com/ssl/ by selecting LED Retrofit Kits from the product category pull-down. More detailed information about retrofits and retrofit safety can be found at https://industries.ul.com/lighting/retrofit-kits.

Beginning with cutting energy costs and enhance efficiencies, the surge in LEDs also offers extraordinary possibilities for “smart lighting” and is expected to transform homes, businesses and public settings around the world.

Built on semiconductor circuit chips (and not filaments or gas), LED lights are the perfect enabler for the Internet of Things and can easily connect to existing wired or WiFi networks. In the not-too-distant future, emerging indoor positioning technologies will track movements in the home or office, dimming and even changing colors according to the time of day or unique needs of the homeowner or employee. And of course, everything will interact with a smart phone or wearable device.