Bright Idea: Think Lumens, Not Watts for Lightbulbs
An era of tossing lightbulbs like disposable trash may begin to die as new government rules about energy efficiency take effect in 2012. But lighting manufacturers hope that Americans will turn to longer-lasting lightbulbs that can slash electricity bills without dimming their lighting expectations.
Consumers who want to save money should look for lightbulbs in terms of lumens (light output) rather than watts (energy usage), said Ed Crawford, CEO of Philips Lighting North America. His company unveiled the world's first LED lightbulb replacement for a traditional 75-watt incandescent bulb during the Lightfair tradeshow in Philadelphia this week.
The new EnduraLED A21 17-watt lightbulb lasts 25 times longer than 75-watt incandescent bulbs, which burn out after just six months or a year.
"If I put it into my child's nursery when they're born, it'll still be working when they come back from college 20 years later," Crawford told InnovationNewsDaily.
Philips' new LED lightbulb comes at a higher up-front cost of $40 to $45 per bulb, compared to a few dollars for a 75-watt incandescent lightbulb. But the LED lightbulb can actually save owners of smart homes or businesses about $160 over its 25,000-hour lifespan because of cheaper electricity bills.
No ban on lightbulbs
One common myth about the federal rules is that they ban incandescent lightbulbs. In reality, the rules simply set standards for energy efficiency that any future lightbulbs must meet.
Americans can still find incandescent lightbulbs on store shelves after Jan. 1, 2012 (with the exception of inefficient 100-watt lightbulbs). Philips has a line of EcoVantage Halogen lightbulbs that meets the federal regulations for energy efficiency.
Consumers who might mourn the loss of big-watt lightbulbs should keep in mind that the new lightbulbs can put out just as much light, Crawford said.
"The biggest issue facing us in the industry is that consumers have gotten used to idea of looking for 60-watt or 75-watt lightbulbs," Crawford explained. "But wattage has nothing to do with light output. It's really all about the lumens."
Another useful trick for consumers is to think about lightbulbs as appliances such as refrigerators that drain energy over a long time and have an attached operating cost. Lighting manufacturers hope to eventually have graphics on lightbulb boxes that can illustrate the yearly costs of using each lightbulb.
Living in a digital world
The long-lasting LED lightbulbs have already found plenty of uses in cars and computers, as well as in the elaborate signs lighting up New York City, Tokyo and Shanghai. But the uses will also spread to more regular lightbulbs as manufacturers find ways to boost the light output.
Philips already has an LED lightbulb that emits the equivalent light of a 60-watt incandescent lightbulb on the store shelves of retailers such as Home Depot. Crawford expects to next target the lighting equivalent of a 100-watt incandescent, following his company's debut of the 75-watt incandescent equivalent.
Still, the real promise of LED lightbulbs lies in the future. Their use of semiconductor technology found in computers means that they permit new levels of controllability over everything from changing colors to nimble on-off patterns something unthinkable for incandescent lightbulbs, which run an electric current through a glowing hot wire.
"We're in the infancy in terms of what digital lighting will allow you to do," Crawford said. "As a lighting guy, that's exciting."
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