Where's Our Eco-Friendly LED Lighting?

Tiny, cold, super-efficient at turning electrical energy into light, and relatively cheap—that's a summary of light emitting diode technology as it stands. Given this fact, and the pressure to make electrical items greener in terms of energy consumption, there's a huge question begging: Where's all the LED lighting?

LED lightbulb Governments are feverishly promoting compact fluorescents over incandescent bulbs—they're better for the environment, and better for your electricity bill. As far as governments are concerned it's better for them because increasing populations demand more power stations, which are tricky and expensive. The EU is even banning "frosted" incandescent bulbs, in the hope the harsh light from bare filament bulbs will push people into buying CFLs.

And from that point of view, the arguments make good sense. CFLs use much less energy to produce the same light intensity. But a CFL takes seconds to come on, and each unit is relatively complex to produce. Inside there's a bunch of electronics to control the fluorescent tube, the glass, chemistry, and gasses inside each tube, a plastic housing and even a puff of mercury—environmentally a big no-no. And if you drop a CFL, perhaps by knocking over a lamp, there's a thousand minuscule glass slivers to clean up. 

Whereas LEDs are electrically even more efficient than CFLs at converting power into light, the technology is advancing leaps and bounds every day. They switch on instantly, there's no glass, no gasses, and the internal electronic components of an LED bulb are much simpler. They don't necessarily smash if you drop them, and there's no mercury at the user's end to worry about.

I bought some recently to replace the six 35W halogen bulbs in my bathroom—it was over illuminated at 210W total lighting, and that had an effect on my electricity bill. Now six 0.75W white LED units from Osram are in there—a 98% reduction in the power used. They're not quite as bright as the originals, but are perfectly adequate. Each bulb cost €7 ($9.30), versus €4 ($5.30) for halogens, and the packet said they have a lifespan of 15,000 hours. At an hour a day, that's a 41-year lifespan

But there were just eight different LED options in my local hardware store, and I had to hunt for them amid tens of incandescent bulbs, hundreds of halogen units, and thousands of CFLs in every shape and power configuration imaginable.

Over at The New York Times, Erica Taub is talking about the same thing, and highlights that there's a slow switch over in business lighting-supply companies to accept LEDs over CFLs. But she suggests the technology is "hardly" ready for the user. I'm arguing the opposite: If manufacturing giants Philips and Osram can pop out perfectly serviceable LED bulbs right now, then why aren't they being aggressively promoted? After all, if they're 10 times more energy efficient, that's surely ten times better for the environment. Can we blame the government-backed incentive schemes—since they're pushing a technology that is already outdated thanks to innovation in the semiconductor LED/OLED industry?

Related: How Many Lightbulbs Does it Take to Change the World? One. And You're Looking At It.
Related: Sylvania Builds for a Bulbless Future

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2 Comments

  • Kit Eaton

    @Sean. Isn't there supposedly a tungsten filament bulb somewhere that's reported to have been on for 60 years or so? My old bulbs barely lasted a six months--though that could also do with the apartment's dodgy electrics.

  • Seán McMahon

    "At an hour a day, that's a 41-year lifespan." - I think that answers your question as to why the manufacturers might be slow on pushing LED. It reminds me of an interview with the head of Ferrari years ago. When asked when will be able to make cars that last a lifetime, he replied we could do it now, but why would we want to.