"Energy Efficiency is at the heart of energy affordability." Tony Earley, Chairman, CEO and President of PG&E Corporation


LEDs: Lighting that Edison would Delight in

By Jonathan Marshall

The biggest thing since the lightbulb” is the apt marketing slogan coined by Cree, the first maker of solid-state, light emitting diode (LED) bulbs to crack the $10 price barrier.

With only 10 percent of the energy consumption of Thomas Edison’s creation, and a lifespan of up to 20 years, many LEDs pay for themselves in just a couple of years of use through lower energy bills and replacement costs. But plummeting prices make it a lot easier for customers to bear the initial sticker shock.

Makers of the new Cree LED bulb say the lighting is 84 percent more efficient and lasts 25 times longer than incandescent bulbs.

The head of Philips Lighting North America told Greentech Media recently that the arrival of lower-cost LED lights has “changed everything” for his company and the entire industry. The market share for LED lights promises to double in two years to 25 percent by 2014 as the technology invades niches previously held by incandescent, fluorescent, halogen and other forms of lighting.

The savings from wider LED adoption will ripple through the U.S. economy. The U.S. Department of Energy reported in April that some 49 million LED lamps and fixtures installed in a total of nine indoor and outdoor applications achieved annual energy cost savings of $675 million. Wholesale conversion of those applications to LEDs would save nearly $37 billion a year in energy and cut annual energy use for lighting in half.

Learn more about the California model for energy efficiency

Saving energy isn’t the only appeal. Many LED lights now offer warm, attractive colors. Increasingly, they come in housings that mimic more familiar incandescent bulbs and fluorescent lamps. And disposing of them doesn’t release toxic metals, like the mercury in fluorescent bulbs.

They are also well suited to dimmers and digital controls that help put the right amount of light in the right place, enhancing employee comfort and productivity.

“It optimizes the illumination for the task you’re doing,” said the research director for Osram Sylvania in Massachusetts. “If you sat at your desk to use the computer, maybe the overhead light would dim, increasing the contrast so you could see better. Other lights could go to an energy-saving hue.”

The ability to control the direction and intensity of their output will likely become a big selling point for LED street lighting in the future. Already such lights can be remotely controlled by wireless networks. Recently researchers reported that with proper filtering, LED streetlights can slash wasted light—which creates light pollution at night—from about 20 percent for conventional street lamps to as little as two percent.

Of course, less wasted light means less wasted energy and lower bills, too.

Not all LED lights are created equal. PG&E offers enticing rebates on some of the better models for use in street lights, refrigerated display cases, and other customer applications. At PG&E’s Pacific Energy Center in San Francisco, customers can also get expert advice and see a variety of LEDs in action, allowing them to compare colors and other lighting characteristics before buying.

Email Jonathan Marshall at Jonathan.Marshall@pge.com.

This story originally appeared on pgecurrents.com.