2013: The Year of the VolksBulb

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Disruptive technology in the lighting industry illuminates how
LED innovation may be our energy-saving grace

by Valerie Kosheleff

With 2013 the Year of the People’s Bulb, Americans must shed no more tears for the soon-to-be phased-out incandescent bulb. Cree – a leader in light emitting diode (LED) technology – and The Home Depot have teamed up to reboot the light bulb. What looks like and what shines as brightly as an incandescent bulb is now the fully-matured and affordable LED light bulb that will save up to 84% of the energy used by traditional light bulbs.

LEDs have been available for years, but “The Cree LED Bulb” should save the average user around or over $200 across its whopping 10-year-warranty life span because it costs less to buy and run than lunch at the corner café. The Cree LED Bulb breaks the $10 a bulb barrier with its warm white 40W-equivalent bulb, which actually only draws 6W to run because it is an LED.  For only a few more dollars, 60W equivalents come in warm white and daylight color temperatures. Also announced last month, Philips will soon be launching a comparable LED bulb for around the $10 retail mark as well.

Another major milestone about this and other LED bulbs is that its manufacturer’s claim of 25,000-hour rated-life should be taken seriously. Other Cree LED lighting products with similar heat-regulation technology (the heat sink plus the electronic thermal management,) have lasted over 130,000 hours running 24 hours a day. This in turn predicts a decrease in the number of bulbs filling landfills by around 66% – a significant portion of the 4 billion or so current screw-in sockets in the US.  Today’s LEDs command much more confidence than yesterday’s CFLs.

Welcome to The Future of LEDership:

Features that make LEDs true leaders in the world of lighting:

  • Draw a fraction of the energy of traditional incandescent bulbs
  • Offer better illumination than their older cousin, the compact fluorescent (CFL)
  • Contain no mercury like CFLs, and thus do not require special disposal
  • “Instant on” eliminates warm-up time and poor illumination
  • Can be dimmable
  • Use new terminology (e.g., luminaire efficacy)
  • Use new standards for measuring their efficacy (see Standards Section below)
  • Come in all shapes, colors, and sizes
  • Eliminate glare issues
  • Eliminate wasted light by being directional
  • Do not cause fading of illuminated objects (e.g. photos), as they emit no infrared
  • Drastically reduce energy demands that in turn decrease greenhouse gas emissions, natural resource consumption, pollution, waste and trash

The benefits of energy efficiency are not just found on one’s electric bill, but ripple through society on all levels – they decrease our reliance on coal and nuclear power plants, two structures nobody wants in their backyard. Complete market penetration of LEDs in the U.S. could close down approximately 46 coal-fired power plants.

In terms of the commercial viability of new energy technology, LEDs win over solar, wind, and electric vehicles. LEDs also have shown exponentially faster improvements than any other lighting technology in history so offer even more hope for future improvements. Currently LEDs make up approximately 8% of the lighting market and are predicted to grow by about 40% this year.

The benefits of LEDs don’t stop there, but continue throughout the life of the product. Not only is the light output more true because LEDs have the potential for a significantly higher color rendering index (CRI) than fluorescents – which allows colors to be seen accurately even under artificial light – but the heat output is also 44% less, which in turn decreases the room temperature volatility.

Aesthetics are evolving too. They have taken a front seat in LED luminaire design, varying from thin panes of glass to spaceship shapes to structural art such as the San Francisco area Bay Bridge LED art project, “The Bay Lights”, inaugurated this month as well.

Although not used for standard light fixtures, organic LEDs (OLEDs) are in a class of their own and boast the incredible properties of coming in roll-on-roll-off sheets that are able to be cut and less expensive.

New Standards

Also expected this year is the highly anticipated Color Quality Scale (CQS), the new method of evaluating LED output quality, as their value differs from traditional lighting measurements (e.g., lumens or footcandles).

Overall package labeling has also changed. The LED Lighting Facts label can be found on packaging or accessed with a smart phone through a QR code. Like all consumer products, quality varies between manufacturers and products. Information on LED manufacturers and products is available on the LED Lighting Facts website.

Most of us are familiar with ENERGY STAR as an energy efficiency rating system for home or business electronics, but soon we’ll be able to rely on the DesignLights Consortium (DLC) certification on LEDs also. More information on quality can be gleaned through the CAliPER Program.

Taking It Home

One area of potential confusion for consumers to consider is that the lumen rating of LEDs changes between the original manufacturing of the chip and the final form factor of the lighting product (i.e., once in the lamp housing, the lumens decrease by approximately 30%).  This is important because manufacturers will claim a certain lumens per watt, which is the chip’s ability, but it is not the actual “delivered lumens per watt,” which is affected by the fixture or lamp housing.

Thus, if you truly want to ensure you are getting the specific lighting output you desire, it is best to purchase a manufacturer-packaged bulb-fixture combo, which will accurately reflect the delivered lumens per watt. But if you have no need to change a fixture, just make sure you are buying reliable LEDs from reliable brands – those who preferably prioritize sustainability and her many facets across all their business practices, not just in producing energy efficient products. So, stop grimacing at spending that ten dollars – with this new technology, you won’t have to change that light bulb until well into the next decade.

March 18, 2013