It's an exciting time to be in the light bulb business. With incandescent bulbs being phased out gradually in the EU and the U.S., the playing field is wide open for companies to create attractive alternatives. Enter the $10 million L Prize, a U.S. Department of Energy-sponsored challenge for lighting designers to come up with a quality LED alternative to the 60 watt incandescent bulb. CFLs and their harsh, unpleasant lighting need not apply.
Philips is the first to enter the contest, which comes with a litany of rules intended to make sure only those who are serious apply. Qualifying LEDs must use fewer than 10 watts to create the lighting equivalent of a 60 watt incandescent, the color must be similar to current incandescents, bulbs have to last 25,000 hours (25 times greater than incandescent bulbs), and the majority of assembly—and all packaging—must be completed in the U.S. Once a bulb has been deemed worthy, it goes through the wringer of lab performance testing to determine wattage in on and off states, as well as dimming performance, light intensity distribution, sustainability as a replacement for incandescents in different facilities, and more. Philips, for its part, has done its due diligence, offering up 2,000 bulb samples, 100 pages of documents, and an informational CD.
Then there's the issue of price. The L Prize is tackling the problem of LEDs' notoriously high prices by partnering with 27 utilities around the country to promote and maybe even subsidize the winning LED lamp. As it stands, Philips has a good chance of taking home the big bucks—nearly 25 other potential entrants were disqualified immediately for submitting low-wattage bulbs. And since the L Prize team is declaring the first applicant to successfully follow the rules as the winner, Philips has a head start over other wannabe-LED hotshots. Lab testing on Philips' bulb will take a year, however, so other entrants have a small window for product submission. We'll be watching closely over the next few months to see if any other lighting companies successfully take on Philips' L Prize entry.