GE Dims Its Incandescent Bulb Business

The bulb as we know it is dying a flickering death. OK, so that’s a tad dramatic but states and even entire continents are considering plans to ban the incandescent bulb. Here’s yet another sign: General Electric (GE) said late yesterday it will restructure its lighting business toward energy-efficient lighting technology, which will speed up the shrinking of its incandescent light-bulb business.

“The restructuring we are proposing, while very difficult due to the impact on employees, would be one of the most important things we’ve done in the 100-plus-year history of GE’s lighting business,” said Jim Campbell, president & CEO of GE’s consumer & industrial division, in a release.

Over the last four years, GE says it has invested more than $200 million in energy-efficient lighting. With the restructuring, the company will increase its focus on R&D in LED, organic LED and “high efficiency incandescent light bulbs.” The proposed restructuring would affect a number of GE facilities and positions globally, including some 1,400 employees, but the shift away from a business centered on inefficient incandescent lighting was inevitable.

Since lighting accounts for 22 percent of the energy usage in the U.S., according to the Department of Energy, energy-efficient lighting technology — from fluorescent to light-emitting diodes — is literally lighting the future.

Fluorescents are so over,” Barnaby Feder of the New York Times recently declared. We agree. Advancements in the brightness and efficiency of LEDs over the past year signal that one day soon these semiconductor lights will make up a significant part of the general illumination market. Costs are still a major issue, but the whole cost equation for purchasing these lights is different because they last for years, instead of a few months like we’re used to with the typical incandescent bulb.

GE’s restructuring announcement follows ongoing rumors that GE is considering an acquisition of LED-maker Cree. As Forbes.com recently noted, GE is competing in the LED space against the world’s largest lighting company, Royal Philips Electronics (PHG). An acquisition of Cree, American Technology Research analyst Andrew Huang was quoted as saying, would enable GE “to quickly leapfrog Philips.”

Royal Philips looks to be ahead of GE when it comes to ownership of LED intellectual property for making the actual chips. Philips took full control of LED company Lumileds two years ago. Last month, they acquired Color Kinetics, the leader in LED lighting for computer-controlled advertising and entertainment displays. Right now, GE has to shop externally for its LEDs and currently buys the chips from a variety of sources, according to Cree CEO Chuck Swaboda, whom we chatted with earlier this week.

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