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.

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Author: Chris de Morsella (146 Articles)

After a decade performing as a lead guitarist for rock bands, Chris de Morsella decided to return to the career his uncle mentored him in as a youth....Software Engineering. Since that time he has thrown himself into his work. He has designed a compound document publishing architecture for regulatory submissions capable of handling very large multi-document FDA regulatory drug approval submissions, for Liquent, a division of Thompson Publishing. At the Associated Press, Chris worked with senior editors at facilities around the world, to develop a solution for replacing existing editorial systems with an integrated international content management solution. He lead the design effort at Microsoft for a help system for mobile devices designed to provide contextual help for users. Chris also helped to develop the web assisted installer for LifeCam2.0, the software for Microsoft’s web cam and developed late breaking features for the product He also served with the Rhapsody client team to redesign and build a major new release of Real Networks Rhapsody client product. His most recent assignment has been Working with the Outlook Mobile Time Management team for the next release of Outlook Mobile for the SmartPhone. Chris' interests are in green building and architecture, smart grid, the cloud, geo-thermal energy, solar energy, smart growth, organic farming and permaculture. Follow Chris on Twitter.

  • Nolan

    It says “25% of the electricity we consume is consumed to light our homes”. About 50% goes to heating and cooling. A geothermal heat pump could reduce that 50% by half. Imagine the impact of changing both your lights and heating and cooling system could have. With the tax credits avaiable, it is really affordable.

    • chris

      Hi Nolan,
      You are absolutely correct… Increasing the energy efficiency of our homes and buildings is the single most important thing we can do as a nation to green our economy and reduce our dependence on fossil fuels. As you point out lighting plus heating and cooling consumes together fully 75% of the energy that our buildings use.

      If you are interested in geothermal heat pumps you may want to check out my post on them: Geothermal Heat Pumps: Good for the Bottom Line, Good for the Nation and Good for the Earth where I go into this promising and essentially universally available technology and technique to get major improvements in energy efficiency in heating and cooling (and hot water heating as a side benefit as well)

      Buildings use the single largest slice of energy in the nations energy pie; more than transportation or any other sector. In fact, according to the Annual Energy Review of 2007, commercial and residential buildings accounted for 39 percent of the total US energy consumption.

  • ishant

    Do you think LEDs are a good idea?
    When we work for long hours under a CFL Lamp, it weakens our eyes and affects our health.It contains toxic substances like mercury which can lead to cancer. Guess its time for us to replace CFL bulbs forLEDs