LED Light Bulbs – One Possible Future of Home Lighting

by Erik North on January 10, 2012

LED Light Bulbs - One Possible Future of Home Lighting


Hey, I almost titled this post, ‘The Future of Lighting is Bright’. So let’s be thankful that didn’t happen.

In the energy conservation rodeo, CFLs (compact fluorescent lights) get all the attention. They’re like the Clydesdales trotted out at the beginning of a county fair. Big, impressive and apt to make a mess.

But why did CFLs get jammed front and center? Mainly because incandescents are a 150-year-old technology (the light equivalent of a Model T) and better alternatives weren’t ready for prime time. That may be changing with bulb-sized LED lights.

What are LED Light Bulbs?

LED stands for light emitting diode. It is a light source that essentially substitutes a semi-conductor (always one of my favorite words – it only sem-conducts?) for the standard tungsten filament.

They are very small, integrated light sources with the color and brightness determined by the semi-conductor properties. They were invented in 1962 and their low power consumption and brightness led to their use in aviation, automobiles, mobile devices and just all over. All those red lights on your car dashboard…LED lights.

LED light bulbs are where the fun begins. LED “bulbs” are a grouping of many individual LEDs. The individual LEDs provide relatively little light. The bulbs include a DC rectifier to convert the AC current. LEDs also don’t operate well at high temps so bulb designs include cooling fins and heat sinks to control operating temperatures.

Advantages of LED Light Bulbs

I mean besides their complete awesomeness, what are the advantages of LED light bulbs? First and most importantly, LED light bulbs produce more far more light per watt than incandescent bulbs and are roughly equal to CFLs. LEDs last an extraordinarily long time, three to five times longer than CFL bulbs and…a LOT longer than incandescent bulbs.

They can be made to produce any color, easily vary light intensity, put off very little heat compared to incandescent bulbs, don’t wear down from repeated on/off cycling and are very physically sturdy. Why they’re some sort of modern techno super miracle, like the Batman of light bulbs. Why don’t we use them everywhere?

Disadvantages of LED Light Bulbs

Unsurprisingly, there are some sizable drawbacks otherwise we’d be drowning in LEDs. Light emitting diode lights are expensive. In fact, I chose to say ‘light emitting diodes’ because it sounds more expensive. While advancing research and economy of scale are bringing prices down, they’re still prohibitive. As of 2011 they’re approximately XXX times more expensive than CFL bulbs (there’s no point in specifying how much. They are improving but still more).

There are other technical shortcomings which I’m ignoring to discuss light quality. It’s the second thing people notice after the sticker shock. ‘Cool white’ LED lights produce a harsh white light that compares badly with sunlight or incandescent bulbs. These two factors have led to a reaction among the larger public that can be summarized as, “This light sucks … and I paid how much for it?!” The caveat here is that state of the art LEDs have vastly improved their light quality and are approaching the Holy Grail of appearing indistinguishable from an incandescent.

LED bulbs are exciting to folks who are excited by that sort of thing (OK, I’m one of them). They address most of the complaints people have about CFLs and last even longer. As the price comes down, they’ll likely supplant CFLs as the belle of the ball.

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