EFY: Is there any particular section of the market that you are focusing on?
One of the very interesting products that Bridgelux has built is designed for street lighting. In Bengaluru for instance, we have about 4 lakh streetlights. So you can imagine the energy savings when a typical 250W streetlight is replaced by LEDs that reduce consumption by 50 per cent or even by 2/3rd. In a country like India, where we are always struggling for power, using these LED solutions can contribute significantly in reducing power consumption.
EFY: Is there any particular LED technology that has greatly affected the industry?
The biggest challenge for LED manufacturers has been cost, and the entire industry has been working towards reducing the cost of LEDs. One of the high cost elements in LED manufacturing is the use of a substrate upon which the LED is built. This material is a significant factor that adds to the manufacturing cost.
Several LED players from the industry have tried to use silicon as the substrate, since this material has been around for decades and is extremely inexpensive. In addition, the extensive experience of manufacturing in silicon based substrates means that there is huge capacity and depreciated cap-ex that can be leveraged for cost. The tremendous amount of automation that exists when working with silicon can also help to reduce costs significantly.
There are significant technical problems to build an LED chip on silicon due to mismatch in the thermal coefficient of expansion. Through its technical innovation, Bridgelux has been able to solve this problem and has demonstrated crack free Gallium Nitride on Silicon. We believe this will disrupt the manufacturing cost curve for LEDs. We expect to have deployed it in the marketplace in approximately 18 months.
EFY: What challenges do you expect to face in India?
If I look at the analogy of how India went through the transition to CFL, it all started with a flood of products coming in from outside with no product standards in place. With inferior products coming in, consumers had poor experiences and consequently blamed the technology for this. Fortunately, the government stepped in and played a strong role in introducing standards which overtime, led to maturity in adoption, and brought down the prices.
LEDs are no different. While standards are being developed, it is essential for companies such as Bridgelux to work closely with lighting companies to ensure that the entire design and integration of the product, including the drivers and thermal management systems are properly selected to meet the lighting product’s requirements. Our ecosystem partnerships were put in place to ensure that high quality products were being used to build the lighting fixture. We are constantly evaluating new drivers, heat sinks and optics and ensure the same is passed on to the customer base here in India.
We all understand prices will continue to come down as sales volumes grow. In addition, Bridgelux is also looking at creating innovative business models to help speed market adoption and overcome this potential barrier for the near term.
EFY: Could you give us an example of such innovation by Bridgelux?
Bridgelux worked with a program for light bulbs along with a North American Utility company. Low cost smart chips were built in the LED light bulb. These smart chips are able to communicate with the utility company through specially developed software. When there is a high load on the grid, typically in the afternoons, the LED bulb sends out a signal to the utility company, who in turn are able to reduce the light output by 15 per cent. This decrease is not noticeable to the human eye. However, the grid sees this reduction and it creates a significant opportunity to save energy. The savings resulting from this 15 per cent reduction, more than compensates for the cost of giving away the bulb for free to the consumers. We need more of such innovative models to help stimulate the demand.
EFY: How do you aim to help transform the energy landscape?
We aim to transform the energy landscape by bringing in solid technology and deploying the right LED solutions in India. We also have a vision of bringing in long term manufacturing in the country. Our goal is to train the people in India and set up the entire ecosystem in the country. As we build application labs in India, engineers that come out of colleges in the country will start to learn about LED technology so that ultimately, we will be able to eliminate our dependency on imports. As a nation, we have to become self reliant with access to the right technology, and the manufacturing of technology. That’s the journey we are on.