Announcement: Exploring Options for Low Energy Light Bulbs

If the Obama administration's plans are realized, traditional incandescent lights will be phased out by 2014 in favor of low energy light bulbs. Currently the two leading contenders for home use are compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and light emitting diodes (LEDs). CFLs have been on the market for a number of years and companies are rapidly improving their LED offerings. What are the advantage and disadvantages of the two technologies?

Compact Fluorescent (CFLs)

Compact fluorescent bulbs burn, on average, ten times longer than incandescent bulbs. Those CFLs with an Energy Star rating use 75% less energy, saving roughly $30 over their operating life. The packaging provides a comparison in wattage to a traditional bulb, but CFLs take several minutes to warm up and produce a colder light than the warm, yellowish cast of incandescent bulbs. Early users objected to the quality of CFL illumination, leading manufacturers to develop second-generation products that more closely reproduce traditional lighting tones.

CFLs that fall between 2700 and 3000 on the Kelvin scale will be closest to the standard output of an incandescent. Bulbs in the 3500-4100k range produce cooler, whiter light, and those at 5000-6500k will have a more natural "daylight" tone. (The Kelvin scale numbers are included on the packaging.) The biggest drawback to CFLs, however, is not the quality of the light they emit, but the fact that they contain mercury. This presents a serious chemical hazard when the bulb is broken and makes CFLs an environmental hazard if not disposed of properly.

A six-pack of General Electric 26-watt CFLs, which compare to the output of a 100-watt incandescent, cost approximately $16 ($2.67 per bulb.) A four-pack of General Electric 100-watt Reveal bulbs can be purchased for $6.08 ($1.52 per bulb.) CFLs do offer sufficient energy savings to offset the higher price, but most people who are tracking the evolution of low energy light bulbs are eagerly anticipating better and less expensive LED products.

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Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs)

LED bulbs for home use, though still in an early stage of their development are showing great promise. They draw even less wattage than CFLs, generally around 2-10 watts, and produce almost no heat. LEDs contain no mercury and are solid state; they can be dropped without presenting a chemical hazard and there is no filament to break. The latest models are rated at an operating life of 40,000 hours or roughly 4.5 years of continuous use.

Most LED bulbs currently available are only suitable for task lighting or downward illumination. The individual LEDs are clustered at the top of the bulb and do not cast light toward the bulb’s base. The brightest LED bulbs currently available claim to produce light equivalent to a 60-watt incandescent. However, the temperature of the light is much cooler than either CFLs or incandescent bulbs, making the LEDs appear dimmer. Many also have a bluish hue, making them more useful as night lights or accent lighting.

There are, however, products already available in Japan, like the nine-bulb LED series by Sharp that illustrate the future of the technology. The top bulb in the Sharp line comes with a remote control allowing the user to set the light's color tone. LEDs are expensive, starting in the mid-$30 range and climbing to $82 for the Japan-only Sharp unit. As the price falls, however, LED bulbs will offer superior energy economy, using less than $50 worth of electricity over their 4-5 year operating life. Just as incandescent bulbs are being phased out of use, CFLs will, in their own time undoubtedly bow to the cheaper, cleaner alternative of the future, LEDs.

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One Response to “Announcement: Exploring Options for Low Energy Light Bulbs”

  1. Advantages of Residential Solar Energy Says:

    […] switching to compact fluorescent bulbs – updating aged, inefficient appliances – stopping power drain to "vampire" always-on or stand-by […]

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