Bright Future in LED Lighting

There has been press lately about the new Philips LED bulb, retailing at (yikes!) $60 minus available rebates.  The slant of many posts state that it’s efficient but expensive, so hug onto your old Edison technology and stay tethered to your coal-powered  electric utility.  True, people are likely to be reluctant to pay $60 for a light bulb, but there are several reasons to consider LED lighting.  There are also several options in LED lighting that cost much less than the hyped Philips bulb.

If I turned every light on in my apartment, I’d be using approximately 276.5 Watts.  Out of 25 screw-in bulbs, 11 are CFLs and 14 are LEDs.  If I exchanged every bulb with a 40 Watt incandescent bulb, I would require 1000 Watts for all 25 bulbs!

Over the past few years, I’ve ‘invested’ in LED technology by buying strange new bulbs for my home.  At first, I was just curious if they could actually trump CFLs in energy efficiency.  The first few bulbs I purchased (a few 1 watt and 3 watt bulbs) did NOT impress me.  Sure, they produced light very efficiently, but their brightness was subpar (less than 100 lumens).  They might as well have been security or night lighting.

150 LEDs in there

Nonetheless, I didn’t dismiss LEDs.  I began to purchase higher-wattage LEDs.  These bulbs, ranging from 7-13 Watts, were much pricier ($50-$100), but much brighter.  I quickly discovered that LED bulbs use varying technologies: multi-LED panels and super-bright LED systems.  The multi-LED panel is simply several basic white LEDs (like the ones in your flashlight).

Old vs New. Improvements in EarthLED ZetaLux bulb size, brightness, and price.

The Super-bright LED systems require far fewer LEDs that emit much more light.  Whereas 36 LEDs could barely produce 180 lumens at 3 watts, a bulb with 8 superbright LEDs can produce over 500 lumens at 7 watts (see CCrane Chart).  A 13 watt bulb equipped with modern “light engines” can emit about 1000 lumens, replacing a 100 watt incandescent.  As the companies I’ve ‘invested’ in have progressed, lighting technology and durability have improved and prices have dropped dramatically.  For example, a bulb costing >$100 a few years ago is now $25.

There are additional benefits to these lighting advances.  LED bulbs are intended to last anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 hours.  Standard incandescent bulbs, producing more heat than light, survive for maybe 1,000 hours.  Even CFLs die out after 5,000-10,000 hours of use.  Next, LEDs generally contain no hazardous heavy metals like CFLs.  They are usually made with aluminum bases (serving as heat sinks) and durable plastic coatings (versus breakable glass globes).  Finally, for those still uncertain of the longevity of LEDs, many manufacturers offer 3-5 year warranties for their product.  That’s an extensive warranty for a LIGHT BULB.

C.Crane GeoBulb uses 8 super-bright LEDs.

Of course, there are a few downsides to LED lighting.  As time goes on, the lights’ output slowly degrade, as opposed to abruptly burning out in incandescents and CFLs.  Insufficient light output in general has been an ongoing issue with LEDs, though R&D has gone into correcting this.  Another issue many have is that LEDs tend to not be omnidirectional; lights focus in only particular directions.  This is a technological issue (the new Philips bulb is trying to address it), but if you strategize, you can find the right bulbs for most applications.  Finally, while the LEDs and the hardware are extremely durable, sometimes circuitry can prematurely fail.  I’ve had this happen on a few bulbs where an array or two of LEDs would fail.  This has not yet occurred with my superbright LED light bulbs.  I have no solution except to look for products with warranties and trust that the technology improves. LEDs use semiconductor technology similar to that of photovoltaic solar panels.  Advances in one technology may translate to improvements and cost reductions in both industries.

Anyway, the takeaway point of this extensive talk on light bulbs (who writes about light bulbs for fun?) is that LED technology has a definitive future.  As for me, I’m investing in it NOW and witnessing the progress…all while promoting stewardship of natural resources and reducing my electric utility bill!

From Left to Right: 13w CFL, 5w LED, 7.5w LED, 9w LED, 7w LED

If you have any questions about LED lighting, feel free to ask!

Related Entry:  A Call for Candelabra LED Lighting

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11 thoughts on “Bright Future in LED Lighting

  1. I like how you use the word “investing”, because I think this is one of the critical issues in how the acceptance of LEDs will expand. For consumers, I see the largest obstacle as overcoming a predetermined idea about what kind of purchase lightbulbs are. If we can change some of the knee jerk reactions in price association then we could see a lot of improvement.

    Americans have been trained to view lightbulbs (among many other things) as a throw-away consumer product. It is not really anyone’s fault in particular, but the expectation is that a small amount of money will be tendered for a decidedly temporary item. This is what really needs to change. Buying LED bulbs is an investment in the same way that you invest in the fixture that holds them. No one expects to pay a couple dollars for a light fixture. Long term planning is not really an American forte, but hopefully more of our countrymen will discard an antiquated cultural norm along with the antiquate technology.

    • Thanks for the comment! US is not known for long-term planning skills OR patience. We want a quick ROI or a cheap price. BUT, as the prices have come down significantly on many bulbs in just a few years, it looks like more folks are learning about investment.

    • I enjoyed reading the info in your article very much. One area where LED would be a good replacement is track lighting. Halogen lighting look great but generate a lot of heat and use a lot of power. I notice that a few LED lights appear to be styled light a spotlight.

    • I haven’t needed dimmable LED lights, but I have seen a few on the market. C.Crane and EarthLED may have some products available or in the works. Home Depot is beginning to carry all types of LED lighting, though I’m uncertain about build quality, warranty, or lifespan.

  2. Pingback: A Call for Candelabra LED Lighting « stewardsofearth

  3. Pingback: Social Green « stewardsofearth

  4. Pingback: Obsolescence of Edison « stewardsofearth

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