There are enormous opportunities for to replace a large proportion of conventional lighting in the long term because of cost, power, weight, space and other potential benefits of OLEDs. Up to 5% of conventional lights in advanced countries may be replaced by 2016-2020. Most of the world's major lighting manufacturers are working on this because it could wipe them out if they do not. Many small companies and newcomers to lighting are also working in this area.
OLED lighting and signage can also open up large new applications, including replacing printed advertisements, billboards and signage and such things as the inadequate lighting in the car trunk. The whole of the inside of the car trunk and the inside of the car could light up thanks to flexible OLED laminate. Indeed, the entire outside surface of cars could glow in the dark to improve safety thanks to OLEDs. This laminate may even act as signage as well ie replacing the indicator lights and signaling "ACCIDENT AHEAD" in the back window. (Some OLEDs will be completely transparent when not in use).
However, cars, military and many other applications call for at least 44,000 hours life. Five year guarantees are becoming the norm for these vehicles. Hundreds of millions of square meters of long life OLED lighting/ signage may be sold yearly.
In the medium term - five years away or more - flexible, longer life and/ or lower power (than fluorescent) versions will open up considerable opportunities for lighting awkward areas and incandescent bulbs, though not yet fluorescent, will be beaten on power consumption and cost of installation. However typical life may be only 10,000 hours in the medium term. Beware of claims for much longer life, particularly of the troublesome blue colours, because there is hype in this industry. Usually such claims refer to power and light emission at impractically low levels.
The challenges with OLED lighting and large area signage include life, poor performance, need to sandwich the device in glass, poor distribution of voltage over large areas, toxic solvents, lack of proven production lines, and how can the materials suppliers continue to justify their massive investments when they only stand to sell small volumes of material as the constructions become thinner and thinner?
The possible end point of printed OLED lighting and signage includes printing onto common packaging materials and having windows and wallpaper that doubles as a TV screen or lighting of adjustable tint and colour yet gathers its own power through eg photovoltaic overlayers, if necessary with printed capacitative power storage as another printed overlayer. Alternatively it may employ printed fuel cells or batteries.
OLED lighting and signage will really take off when it has long life, is cheaper up front than conventional lighting, less power hungry, thin and flexible. Environmental, ease of installation and replacement, optical transparency and low cost of ownership are important but secondary benefits that will be realized.
All this will be achieved in the next ten years while improvements in the cost, flexibility and power consumption of conventional incandescent and fluorescent lighting will be minimal. However, beating the lumens per watt of halogen lighting may take longer.
Timeline for OLEDs to beat conventional lighting on power, cost and flexibility