Summary:

In a few years, we’ll look back at 2010 and remember it as the year that LEDs (light emitting diodes) turned a corner and went from a pricey niche lighting technology to a mainstream contender.

In a few years, we’ll look back at 2010 and remember it as the year that LEDs (light emitting diodes) turned a corner and went from a pricey niche lighting technology to a mainstream contender.

Among several signs, Pike Research recently reported that by 2020 LEDs will make up nearly half (46 percent) of the $4.4 billion U.S. commercial lamp market. And last month, LED lighting company Cree announced that its first quarter 2010 revenue shot up 78 percent compared to the same quarter a year ago, driven primarily by LED products, and that its profits experienced a tenfold increase over last year.

Of course, a rosy forecast and one company’s stellar financials do not a vibrant LED market make.  But as I describe in my weekly GigaOM Pro column, there are a couple more reasons why 2010 is a watershed year for this solid-state lighting technology.

Lighting Management Gets Smarter: The biggest opportunity for LEDs to produce serious energy savings comes from lighting management systems that give commercial facilities managers fine-grained control over their lights, and by extension, the energy they consume. At Lightfair, a tradeshow for lighting specialists, designers and decorators, Redwood Systems (one of our 10 LED companies to watch at Lightfair) is currently showing off new networked LED lighting systems, while California Eastern Laboratories, Teridian and Synapse Wireless are displaying their “plug-and-play” collaboration that forms the basis of a wireless lighting control and energy management and monitoring platform.

LEDs Attract More Big Guns: Panasonic, Samsung and Toshiba are all on the LED bandwagon. This week, Samsung announced that it’s devoting a massive $21 billion to pursue green technologies including (you guessed it) LEDs. Toshiba, also in the midst of spending billions to explore eco-opportunities, debuted its E-Core LED bulbs at this year’s Lightfair.

Home Depot Breaks the $20 Barrier: This week, Home Depot started selling Lighting Science Group’s dimmable, 40-watt equivalent EcoSmart bulb for $19.97. Even better, its 3032°K color temperature falls closer in line with the warm tones of incandescent bulbs than the cool, harsh light that’s typically associated with LEDs and that many find so off-putting. Think $20 is still a lot of money to pay for a light bulb? Not everyone agrees. The bulbs are already backordered as of this writing.

With the market suddenly seems white hot, LEDs could prove to be a lucrative opportunity for consumers (energy savings) and startups that make the tech that goes inside.

Image courtesy of matt512′s photostream.

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