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The Department Of Energy Reveals The Light Bulb Of The Future

This Philips LED bulb is the winner of the DOE's $10 million competition to develop a low-cost, energy efficient, high-performance replacement for the incandescent bulb.

Incandescent bulbs may be inefficient, but they give off a more pleasant light than most CFL bulbs, and LED lights—which cast a nicer glow—are still pricey. Philips may have the solution. The company just won the Department of Energy's first L Prize competition to develop a low-cost, energy efficient, high-performance replacement for the incandescent bulb. Philips took the top prize ($10 million) for its 60-watt equivalent LED bulb, which will be in stores next year.

The bulb was submitted in 2009 and underwent 18 months of lab and field-testing at the DOE, including exposure to extreme humidity, temperatures, vibration, and voltage changes. Philips' entry uses less than 10 watts for the same light output as a 60 watt incandescent—an energy savings of 83%.

The DOE claims that if everyone in the U.S. converted their 60 watt incandescent lamps to the Philips bulb, we would save 35 terawatt-hours of electricity in one year, or enough to power the lights of almost 18 million households.

The bulb still won't be cost-competitive with CFLs when it is released—it will cost just under $18, compared to $3 for some CFL bulbs (though it will still pay itself off eventually through electricity savings). But Philips will get plenty of promotional help from the DOE; it was the only manufacturer to even attempt to meet the L Prize requirements. And now that it has been declared a winner, the DOE and a network of 31 utilities and energy-efficiency organizations will go to work trying to lower the cost of the bulb with everything from national retailer partnerships to product incentives paid directly to consumers. This will, according to the DOE, "drive sales volumes up and prices down far more quickly than would otherwise be possible."

And once LEDs do reach cost-per-lumen parity with CFLs—probably around 2015—Philips will have a head start in the sector.

[Images: Top, Flickr user JSmith Photo; Bottom, Philips]

Reach Ariel Schwartz via Twitter or email.

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  • Ashley S

    these lights may be great, but they are ridiculously over priced.  you can get LED bulbs starting at just a couple dollars, so you will actually pocket the energy savings and not just hand them over to Philips.  they shouldn't be more than $2, and they aren't if you know where to go, like and other US companies that are moving fast to supply alternatives to the soon to be obsolete incandescent light bulb. and unlike CFLs LEDs don't contain toxic mercury vapor.

  • Nick B

    @ WandaBerger
    The point of reducing energy consumption is to reduce emissions of CO2. Therefore, while a reduction in global population growth would be a good thing, immigration is a political red herring in this discussion because the migrating person would consume energy whether they were in the US or not.

    Unless you're suggesting that a person moving to the US adopts a lifestyle which is far more inefficient and consumptive than where they came from, in which case yes maybe you have a point. But then you're making an indictment on US society rather than immigration.

    On the original point, some people have no issue with CFLs compared to tungsten filament bulbs, some do. LEDs broaden choices for a lower carbon lifestyle, which is a good thing. The high costs and lower lifespan (LEDs to date have dimmed with usage more quickly compared to CFLs) remain a barrier for many, but that's a normal pattern for most new products as they transition from early adopters to mass market.

  • WandaBerger

    Instead of waiting for miracle light bulbs to reduce our energy use it would be far more efficacious to reduce population growth (read immigration) to deal with ever energy demand.
    Let's stop being mesmerized by the immigration fairy and truly get our energy use down - or just watch the problem grow more intractable.

  • giantslor

    You can't state categorically that incandescent lights give off a more pleasant light than most CFL bulbs. I prefer the white light of CFLs over the yellow of incandescents. It just feels more pure to me.

  • Andrew Krause

    There are reams of market research to show that to be the case, and among the reasons why some people refuse to switch to CFLs. To wit, manufacturers worked to perfect a CFL that gave of a warm yellow light instead of the harsh blue-white of a CFL.

  • ctdfalconer

    There's a lot of bellyaching about having to use CFLs but the future really does belong to LEDs. I know I'll replace most of my CFLs with LEDs when they burn out in a few years.

  • lighthouse10

    This is all exciting stuff

    - the more lighting choice, the better.

    fancy spending millions to copy the light quality of an incandescent bulb, as was reportedly the aim,
    rather than developing new lighting with its own advantages....

    Also -RE Getting Cheaper
    Philips expects the price of LEDs to drop from $40 today to about $10 in a few years time, when the market will really take off
    This mirrors what others say about LEDs too
    (a marked price reduction as indeed has happened with CFLs, even discounting subsidies)

    So why ban simple incandescent alternatives in that case, which of course have advantages too?
    Presumably people will soon WANT to buy all these wonderful affordable new bulbs then - without coercion?


    1. People prefer new bulbs = why ban old bulbs, little savings from a ban, and the old bulbs still have advantages in some situations
    (compare radio tubes and transistors, tubes were bought less anyway, but are still useful in some situations - any guitarists out there ?!)

    2. People still prefer old bulbs = rather odd to ban them then, as well!
    (and it is a ban,  halogen type incandescents will be banned too before 2020 on the Energy Act 45 lumen per Watt specification, and anyway have different light quality  as well as much greater expense for marginal savings)

    the supposed switchover savings are not there anyway, either for society  (less than 1% US energy usage, 1-2% grid electricity)
    or for consumers, based on DOE 's own statistics -
    There are as seen much more relevant ways to save energy,
    in electricity generation, grid distribution, and real consumption waste, than from telling people what light bulbs they can use.

    How many Congressmen should it take to change a light bulb?
    How many Citizens should be allowed to choose?

  • John Howley

    Interesting that CFLs are now the pricing standard.  Just a few years ago, markets were wondering whether consumers would pay for CFLs that were much more expensive than incandescents.

    John Howley