Just in Time For Earth Day: High Efficiency Light Bulbs
April 18, 2012

Just in Time For Earth Day: High Efficiency Light Bulbs

A new highly energy-efficient light bulb that won a $10 million government contest is set to go on sale in retail outlets just in time for Earth Day, according to Philips Electronics, the maker of the new bulb.

The 60-watt replacement bulb boasts an astonishing lifespan of 20 years (30,000 hours at 4 hours per day) and burns only 10 watts of power. The bulb is expected to save around $8 per year in electricity.

The US Department of Energy (DOE) last year challenged inventors to come up with a low-cost, highly efficient replacement to the incandescent bulb, and the winner of the coveted contest was the Philips LED light bulb, which will be available to consumers starting this coming Sunday.

But as news poured throughout media outlets, concerns arose over the price of the new bulb, which had an original price tag of $60. Philips since then has dropped the price to $50, but said it will work with energy companies to offer rebates of $25 to $30 in certain markets.

Roughly 500 utilities have signed on to provide rebates for the bulbs so far, Ed Crawford, chief executive of Philips Lighting North America, told Ryan Tracy of Dow Jones Newswires.

The DOE said any light bulb that wins the L Prize contest, developed in 2007, would have to be able to offer a light bulb for no more than $22 within the first year of availability to receive the $10 million prize. Philips was the only entrant in that contest and was crowned the winner last year, after 18 months of testing.

If consumers can get the bulb for less than $30, it should be a good investment compared to traditional incandescent bulbs. But Philips´ new bulb is not just competing against the $1 incandescent light bulb; compact fluorescents (CFLs) are nearly as energy efficient. The average CFL uses about 15 watts for 60 watts worth of light and are much cheaper, costing $3 to $5 on average, and can last up to 10 years (at 4 hours per day usage).

However, the Philips bulb has some advantages over CFLs. The big plus is its longevity, lasting two to three times longer than CFLs. It also gives off a more natural-looking light. It also doesn´t contain the toxic mercury vapor seen in CFLs, which can create a hazard when they break.

Philips has been selling a cheaper version of the L Prize bulb since 2010. That version is less efficient, but Crawford said it has done well in sales. He said that LED light bulbs now account for close to 20 percent of Philips´ US lighting sales, up from zero just three years ago.

Crawford predicted the price of the new bulbs could drop “dramatically” as more bulbs are sold and production volumes are increased. A $25 price range is the target Philips is looking for with the new long-lasting LED bulbs, he added.

“There´s no question in my mind the price will come down,” he said, citing the similar but slightly less-efficient 60-watt LED bulb that dropped in price by 30 percent after the first year it was on the market. He said consumers could recoup the costs of the new bulbs within 2 years through the energy savings on their light bills.

The US Department of Energy estimates that if every 60-watt incandescent light bulb in the US was replaced with Philips´ energy-efficient LED bulb, the country would save upwards of $4 billion a year in electricity costs and avoid 20 million metric tons of carbon emissions.

Bulb makers are now trying to produce LED bulbs that produce 100 watts worth of light to replace the incandescent equivalents which are no longer made or imported. A federal ban on 100 watt incandescent bulbs kicked in at the beginning of the year, and they are now hard to come by. All incandescent bulbs of 40 watts or more will be banned in 2014.

Engineers say squeezing enough LEDs into a bulb-sized space to produce t100 watts worth of light is technically challenging. LEDs generate heat, destroying them over time unless they are well cooled.