Thursday, March 29, 2007

We're your government, and we're here to help

Albeo has spent the last few weeks trying to unwind the 'help' that the government is providing us.

Recently, the US Department of Energy (DOE) has begun publishing a series of test results of solid state lighting (SSL) efficacy. Among their stated goals are to:
  • Provide objective product performance information to the public in the early years, helping buyers and specifiers have confidence that new SSL products will perform as claimed
  • Guide the development, refinement, and adoption of credible, standardized test procedures and measurements for SSL products
We recently found out that the DOE had purchased an Albeo fixture for testing, and they provided us with their results of that testing. We were dismayed, although not completely surprised, to learn that their results differed dramatically from our own results; results that we had touted in our marketing materials.

Why are the results so different, especially since Albeo's results were measured by an independent testing lab? (In fact, the lab we used was just selected as one of five candidate laboratories in the country to conduct SSL product tests in support of the DOE SSL Commercial Product Testing Program.) There are two major reasons for the discrepancy:
  • The DOE includes the power supply in the measurement. Albeo does not, because we buy these power supplies from a third party, or our customer supplies them. (California does not include the power supply in its Title 24 efficacy standard.)
  • Efficacy results can vary dramatically with the product options (desired color temperature, use of a lens or a diffuser) and with lot-to-lot variations of LED component efficacy.
It turns out that the DOE ordered a version of our fixture that has the worst possible combination of characteristics. It's not wrong from them to do so, but it provides the opportunity for confusion among our customers.

For that reason, last week we published a news release to try to clear up the confusion. What's more frustrating is that, for our customers, efficacy is not commonly one of the top selection criteria for our part compared to other alternatives.

To be fair to the DOE and Jim Brodrick, Manager of the DOE's Lighting Research and Development program, (according to this article) they're just responding to a request from the solid state lighting industry for assistance. According to Jim,
“We have planned a number of commercialization-assistance activities to make certain that the DOE’s substantial investment in new SSL technology results in widespread use of these technologies and in large benefits to the US economy.”
However, isn't the free market better equipped to provide this kind of information, or to even decide if this information is useful?

If SSL is going to succeed, it will do so on its own merits when it is compared other available alternatives. The market is ruthlessly efficient in sorting these things out. It doesn't really need 'help' from Uncle Sam.
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