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.
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).
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.
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!
If you have any questions about LED lighting, feel free to ask!
Related Entry: A Call for Candelabra LED Lighting