The current–voltage characteristic of an LED is similar to other diodes, in that the current is dependent exponentially on the voltage (see Shockley diode equation). This means that a small change in voltage can cause a large change in current. If the applied voltage exceeds the LED’s forward voltage drop by a small amount, the current rating may be exceeded by a large amount, potentially damaging or destroying the LED. The typical solution is to use constant-current power supplies to keep the current below the LED’s maximum current rating. Since most common power sources (batteries, mains) are constant-voltage sources, most LED fixtures must include a power converter, at least a current-limiting resistor. However, the high resistance of three-volt coin cells combined with the high differential resistance of nitride-based LEDs makes it possible to power such an LED from such a coin cell without an external resistor.
As with all diodes, current flows easily from p-type to n-type material. However, no current flows and no light is emitted if a small voltage is applied in the reverse direction. If the reverse voltage grows large enough to exceed the breakdown voltage, a large current flows and the LED may be damaged. If the reverse current is sufficiently limited to avoid damage, the reverse-conducting LED is a useful noise diode.
Safety and health
The vast majority of devices containing LEDs are “safe under all conditions of normal use”, and so are classified as “Class 1 LED product”/”LED Klasse 1”. At present, only a few LEDs—extremely bright LEDs that also have a tightly focused viewing angle of 8° or less—could, in theory, cause temporary blindness, and so are classified as “Class 2”. The opinion of the French Agency for Food, Environmental and Occupational Health & Safety (ANSES) of 2010, on the health issues concerning LEDs, suggested banning public use of lamps in the moderate Risk Group 2, especially those with a high blue component, in places frequented by children.
In general, laser safety regulations—and the “Class 1”, “Class 2”, etc. system—also apply to LEDs.
While LEDs have the advantage over fluorescent lamps that they do not contain mercury, they may contain other hazardous metals such as lead and arsenic. Regarding the toxicity of LEDs when treated as waste, a study published in 2011 stated: “According to federal standards, LEDs are not hazardous except for low-intensity red LEDs, which leached Pb [lead] at levels exceeding regulatory limits (186 mg/L; regulatory limit: 5). However, according to California regulations, excessive levels of copper (up to 3892 mg/kg; limit: 2500), lead (up to 8103 mg/kg; limit: 1000), nickel (up to 4797 mg/kg; limit: 2000), or silver (up to 721 mg/kg; limit: 500) render all except low-intensity yellow LEDs hazardous.”
In 2016 a statement of the American Medical Association (AMA) concerning the possible influence of blueish street lighting on the sleep-wake cycle of city-dwellers led to some controversy. So far high-pressure sodium lamps (HPS) with an orange light spectrum were the most efficient light sources commonly used in street-lighting. Now many modern street lamps are equipped with Indium gallium nitride LEDs (InGaN). These are even more efficient and mostly emit blue-rich light with a higher correlated color temperature (CCT). Since light with a high CCT resembles daylight it is thought that this might have an effect on the normal circadian physiology by suppressing melatonin production in the human body. There have been no relevant studies as yet and critics claim exposure levels are not high enough to have a noticeable effect.
Efficiency: LEDs emit more lumens per watt than incandescent light bulbs. The efficiency of LED lighting fixtures is not affected by shape and size, unlike fluorescent light bulbs or tubes.
Color: LEDs can emit light of an intended color without using any color filters as traditional lighting methods need. This is more efficient and can lower initial costs.
Size: LEDs can be very small (smaller than 2 mm2) and are easily attached to printed circuit boards.
Warmup time: LEDs light up very quickly. A typical red indicator LED achieves full brightness in under a microsecond. LEDs used in communications devices can have even faster response times.
Cycling: LEDs are ideal for uses subject to frequent on-off cycling, unlike incandescent and fluorescent lamps that fail faster when cycled often, or high-intensity discharge lamps (HID lamps) that require a long time before restarting.
Dimming: LEDs can very easily be dimmed either by pulse-width modulation or lowering the forward current. This pulse-width modulation is why LED lights, particularly headlights on cars, when viewed on camera or by some people, seem to flash or flicker. This is a type of stroboscopic effect.
Cool light: In contrast to most light sources, LEDs radiate very little heat in the form of IR that can cause damage to sensitive objects or fabrics. Wasted energy is dispersed as heat through the base of the LED.
Slow failure: LEDs mainly fail by dimming over time, rather than the abrupt failure of incandescent bulbs.
Lifetime: LEDs can have a relatively long useful life. One report estimates 35,000 to 50,000 hours of useful life, though time to complete failure may be shorter or longer. Fluorescent tubes typically are rated at about 10,000 to 25,000 hours, depending partly on the conditions of use, and incandescent light bulbs at 1,000 to 2,000 hours. Several DOE demonstrations have shown that reduced maintenance costs from this extended lifetime, rather than energy savings, is the primary factor in determining the payback period for an LED product.
Shock resistance: LEDs, being solid-state components, are difficult to damage with external shock, unlike fluorescent and incandescent bulbs, which are fragile.
Focus: The solid package of the LED can be designed to focus its light. Incandescent and fluorescent sources often require an external reflector to collect light and direct it in a usable manner. For larger LED packages total internal reflection (TIR) lenses are often used to the same effect. However, when large quantities of light are needed many light sources are usually deployed, which are difficult to focus or collimate towards the same target.
Initial price: LEDs are currently slightly more expensive (price per lumen) on an initial capital cost basis, than other lighting technologies. As of March 2014, at least one manufacturer claims to have reached $1 per kilolumen. The additional expense partially stems from the relatively low lumen output and the drive circuitry and power supplies needed.
Temperature dependence: LED performance largely depends on the ambient temperature of the operating environment – or thermal management properties. Overdriving an LED in high ambient temperatures may result in overheating the LED package, eventually leading to device failure. An adequate heat sink is needed to maintain long life. This is especially important in automotive, medical, and military uses where devices must operate over a wide range of temperatures, which require low failure rates. Toshiba has produced LEDs with an operating temperature range of −40 to 100 °C, which suits the LEDs for both indoor and outdoor use in applications such as lamps, ceiling lighting, street lights, and floodlights.
Voltage sensitivity: LEDs must be supplied with a voltage above their threshold voltage and a current below their rating. Current and lifetime change greatly with a small change in applied voltage. They thus require a current-regulated supply (usually just a series resistor for indicator LEDs).
Color rendition: Most cool-white LEDs have spectra that differ significantly from a black body radiator like the sun or an incandescent light. The spike at 460 nm and dip at 500 nm can make the color of objects appear differently under cool-white LED illumination than sunlight or incandescent sources, due to metamerism, red surfaces being rendered particularly poorly by typical phosphor-based cool-white LEDs. The same is true with green surfaces.
Area light source: Single LEDs do not approximate a point source of light giving a spherical light distribution, but rather a lambertian distribution. So, LEDs are difficult to apply to uses needing a spherical light field; however, different fields of light can be manipulated by the application of different optics or “lenses”. LEDs cannot provide divergence below a few degrees. In contrast, lasers can emit beams with divergences of 0.2 degrees or less.
Electrical polarity: Unlike incandescent light bulbs, which illuminate regardless of the electrical polarity, LEDs only light with correct electrical polarity. To automatically match source polarity to LED devices, rectifiers can be used.
Blue hazard: There is a concern that blue LEDs and cool-white LEDs are now capable of exceeding safe limits of the so-called blue-light hazard as defined in eye safety specifications such as “ANSI/IESNA RP-27.1–05: Recommended Practice for Photobiological Safety for Lamp and Lamp Systems”. However, lighting physicist Sebastien Point and colleagues showed that there is no evidence of a risk in normal use at domestic illuminance for the general population, and that caution is only needed for particular occupationnal situations or for specific populations.
Light pollution: Because white LEDs, especially those with high color temperature, emit much more short wavelength light than conventional outdoor light sources such as high-pressure sodium vapor lamps, the increased blue and green sensitivity of scotopic vision means that white LEDs used in outdoor lighting cause substantially more sky glow. The American Medical Association warned on the use of high blue content white LEDs in street lighting, due to their higher impact on human health and environment, compared to low blue content light sources (e.g. High-Pressure Sodium, PC amber LEDs, and low CCT LEDs).
Efficiency droop: The efficiency of LEDs decreases as the electric current increases. Heating also increases with higher currents, which compromises LED lifetime. These effects put practical limits on the current through an LED in high power applications.
Impact on insects: LEDs are much more attractive to insects than sodium-vapor lights, so much so that there has been speculative concern about the possibility of disruption to food webs.
Use in winter conditions: Since they do not give off much heat in comparison to incandescent lights, LED lights used for traffic control can have snow obscuring them, leading to accidents.
Thermal runaway and negative resistance: Some LEDs notably large area diodes have quite high reverse capacitance and it is possible to damage them if the dV/dT is too short due to destructive ringing oscillations with inadequate driver similar to a related effect in laser diodes. To some extent this can be mitigated by shunting the diode(s) with a resistor whose value can be calculated based on a very simple formula. Value can be quite high even up to 100K as the capacitance of a typical LED is in the 10-900pF range.Incidentally this effect is also used in some amateur radio optical receivers to help detect weak signals in the visible band eg Phlatlight(tm) paired with a bandpass filtered reverse biased silicon photovoltaic module using instrumentation amplifiers.Some newer GaN and InGaN LEDs show negative resistance at low to moderate drive current and this can be problematical as it can result in unpredictable behavior and RF emission under certain drive methodologies.
Quote from Wikipedia.