The LED Lighting Revolution Is On - Long-Lasting Bulbs Now Available for Less Than Five Bucks

A revolution is occurring in the lighting aisle: Those long-lasting, energy-saving light bulbs that cost more than $25 each when first introduced a few years ago can now be found for $5 or less. While LEDs may currently fill just a few percent of America's 4 billion screw-based sockets, that's about to change dramatically. And when it does, consumers will save billions of dollars annually and we'll avoid many millions tons of climate-changing pollution from the fossil fuel-burning power plants providing electricity to our homes and businesses.

Sale in Aisle 1

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Prominently displayed at Home Depot last month was a display of screw-based LED light bulbs being sold for $4.88. No, that's not a typo and that price is before any utility rebates that might be available. These bulbs do everything the old 60-watt incandescent could (same size, same brightness and color, and dimmable, too). But there's one big exception: this LED bulb lasts 25 years instead of just one, and because it uses less than 10 watts to operate, it will save the user well over a hundred dollars' worth of electricity over its lifetime. Wal-Mart, the nation's largest retailer in America, offers a similar product, as well.

Not to be outdone, Philips Lighting just introduced an LED light bulb that only uses 8.5 watts of power and, for a limited time, is offering a two-pack for $4.97, or just under $2.50 a bulb. To achieve this really low price, Philips chose to reduce the bulb's lifetime to 10 years and not to make it dimmable.

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These seem like reasonable choices as lower prices make these LED bulbs even more attractive to those consumers who base their decisions largely on purchase cost. (Note, less than 15 percent of the sockets in a typical home are dimmable and consumers will be more than satisfied with a 10-year bulb life for all but the hardest-to-reach sockets.)

Even More Innovation is On the Way

In Europe, LED bulbs that contain strings or filaments of small LEDs have been on the market for more than a year. These bulbs offer a novel design, one that some consumers might find appealing as they can see the glowing filament when the bulb is on. Here is a photo of one I just purchased via the Internet from a small private company and we should expect similar products from major manufacturers to hit U.S. shelves within the next several months.

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Just the other day, GE launched a new LED product called the LED Bright Stik, which has a unique lipstick tube-shaped design that will enable the bulb to fit in almost any socket. These bulbs will be sold in three packs for $9.97 at Home Depot. Things are changing so fast that GE, the company that brought us the incandescent lamp, is proudly promoting this new LED bulb on You Tube. The lighting revolution is indeed upon us!

How did the revolution begin?

The catalyst for all this lighting innovation was the 2007 Federal Energy Bill that phased out inefficient incandescent light bulbs, beginning in 2012, and was passed with bipartisan congressional support and signed into law by President George W. Bush. Today, there are many types of bulbs to replace the old energy-wasting ones that hadn't had a major technology update since the time of Thomas Edison but so far, LEDs are the best option for consumers in terms of energy and pocketbook savings.

It's truly inspiring to watch how the lighting companies are responding to the call for energy-saving bulbs and I fully expect even more amazing products to be on the shelf next time this year, if not before.

About the Authors

Noah Horowitz

Senior Scientist and Director, Center for Energy Efficiency, Energy & Transportation program

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