Promoting the widespread use of energy efficient lighting is one of the best strategies available to increase our energy efficiency and reduce our carbon footprint. Around 25% of the electricity we consume is consumed to light our homes and buildings. Both LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) and Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFL) use far less electricity per lumen (which is a measure of the amount of light produced) than do incandescent bulbs.
Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFL) Are Here Today
Compact Fluorescent Lights are widely available today; they use around one fourth as much energy as incandescent bulbs and last around 10 times as long as incandescent bulbs do. Although they do cost more than incandescent bulbs of similar power they will pay for themselves many times over through lower monthly electric bills and less need of replacement.
CFL bulbs do contain varying amounts of mercury, which is very toxic and bio-accumulative pollutant. Some manufacturers are reducing the amount of mercury contained and in many areas specialized recycling programs are also available. However it is also true that over the lifetime of use a CFL bulb – even one that is not properly recycled – will result in less net mercury pollution of the environment than using incandescent lighting. This is true because coal burning power plants – which provide the lion’s share of US electricity production — emit mercury from their smokestacks and over the life of a CFL bulb more mercury emissions will be avoided than are contained in the bulb.
LEDs (Light Emitting Diodes) Are Poised to Become the Lighting Technology of Tomorrow
LED lighting has been around for a while, but has been limited to niche markets because of its high manufacturing costs and poor color quality, but this is rapidly changing. New production technologies are poised to rapidly bring down costs. Engineers are also getting LEDs to emit a warmer white color than white LEDs have done in the past.
LED lights last even longer than CFLs do – they will last for around 50,000 hours, which means in typical usage they will not need replacing for 10 to 30 years. They also do not suddenly fail like traditional bulbs do when they burn out, but rather they begin to fade gradually losing their light emitting capabilities.
Even though they do still cost much more than incandescent and more than CFLs – LED lighting is already a money saver when the total life time costs of the various alternatives are considered.
LED lights also do not suffer from the Mercury environmental problem that has dogged CFL lighting technology amongst environmentally conscious consumers.
New Study by Carnegie Mellon University Makes the Case that LEDs Will Light Our Way Forward
The study, which was published in the March 2009 edition of IEEE Spectrum Magazine, found that some LED technologies are already cheaper than most commonly used lighting technologies. This has lead the researchers, who also include M. Granger Morgan, the Lord Chair Professor of Engineering at Carnegie Mellon and EPP Department Head, and Fritz Morgan, chief technology officer of Philips-Color Kinetics and a Carnegie Mellon alumnus to conclude that it is imperative for society to rapidly transition to solid-state lighting to save money and to help the environment.
Lima Azevedo, one of the authors of the study said the following, “Lighting our houses, streets and commercial buildings constitutes more than 20 percent of total U.S. electricity consumption. Light emitting diodes (LED) can reduce consumption and the emission of greenhouse gases because of their high-efficiency conversion of electricity to visible light,”
However the study also concluded that the move to this much more sustainable and energy efficient lighting technology will need policy interventions to incentivize people to change the way that they do things. Essentially this is because we are creatures of habit and because the up-front costs of LED lights are and will remain higher – even though they wil save significant amounts of money over the long run.
“Even if the LED technology is cheaper on a lifecycle basis, consumers are likely to stick to what they know,” Azevedo said. “We need the design of smart policies to make this transition.”
In addition to championing a phased-in transition to solid-state lighting, the researchers recommend development of nationwide illumination standards for new residential and commercial construction projects
© 2009, Chris de Morsella. All rights reserved. Do not republish.