Shining light on energy savings: With LEDs, the future of bulbs is bright
When it comes to lighting, the potential for energy efficiency is just too great to ignore. Around the home, changing bulbs can change your electric bills, and the monthly savings can add up quickly.
“Lighting efficiency upgrades have long been the poster child of energy efficiency,” says Alan Shedd, director of energy solutions for Touchstone Energy Cooperatives.
That’s because consumers regularly use dozens of bulbs in fixtures out of necessity and convenience. According to the U.S. Department of Energy’s Energy Information Administration, nearly 130 billion kilowatt hours of electricity are consumed by residential lighting each year, representing about 9 percent of all home energy use.
As light emitting diode (LED) design options increase, prices are coming down, and more consumers see LEDs as an alternative to carbon filament incandescent bulbs first popularized by Thomas Edison in the 1880s.
“The economics make sense,” said Shedd. “When LED lamp products were $20, it was a tough sell, now for a couple of bucks you can get a lamp that saves energy and lasts 10 times longer.”
To get an idea of your potential for energy savings, complete a home inventory. Don’t just count fixtures – count bulbs, checking wattage, and whether they are dimmable, three-way or require special bases. Also note the type of bulb now in use: incandescent, halogen, compact florescent lights or straight or circular florescent tubes.
There’s a good chance your total bulb count for the average single-family home will be between 50 and 75, including hallways, garages and storage areas.
Savings add up
In 2009, 58 percent of U.S. households had at least one energy-efficient bulb indoors. By the spring of 2016, 86 percent of all households used at least one CFL or LED bulb, and nearly 20 percent of all households had completely abandoned incandescent bulb use.
Since passage of the Energy Independence Act of 2007, electric cooperatives and public power districts have promoted energy efficiency in lighting by sharing information on potential savings.
The federal law mandating a 25 percent increase in lighting efficiency led many U.S. manufacturers to phase out incandescent bulbs of 100 watts or more.
Halogen varieties available for residential applications can produce excessive heat. That becomes more of a consideration during cooling season, when HVAC systems can get their most use.
In recent years, manufacturers have focused more research on lighting efficacy, energy efficiency and cycle longevity. That’s led to major increases in the projected hours of use and lower failure rates.
Many consumers don’t like the lighting quality offered by compact florescent light bulbs, which can also be prone to failure due to heat build-up when used in closed lighting fixtures.
While LED lighting was initially expensive and limited to warm white or a few color temperatures and designs, market acceptance and continued research have forced prices down, and led to an expanded variety of products.
Lumens not watts
Cashing in on lighting efficiency can get easier if we rethink the way we buy and use the lighting products.
Many consumers resist switching from ounces to grams, miles to kilometers or Fahrenheit to Celsius when discussing measurements and temperatures. But, when it comes to lighting, thinking lumens instead of watts makes sense, because it could save you dollars and cents.
Cool white, soft white, dimmable, decorative, three-way, decorative and color are now among the options, with LEDs taking up an increasing share of shelf space in the lighting sections of hardware, discount and home improvement stores.
“The wide range of products is the biggest challenge – used to be a lamp was a lamp – you pretty much knew what you were getting,” said Touchstone Energy’s Shedd. “Now, the shelves are packed with a dizzying array of choices.”
According to Shedd, education, or re-education is the key. Once a consumer knows that lumens are a measurement of the amount of light given off by a bulb, they understand that the lower the lumens, the dimmer the light.
“Sure lumens can be confusing – we didn’t grow up with that,” said Touchstone Energy’s Shedd. But showing that a 1,000 lumen lamp is equivalent to a 60 Watt incandescent bulb is a short term fix.”
While replacing compact florescent light bulbs with LEDs saves less energy, consumer preferences have driven a shift away from CFLs, in part because of color and lighting quality.
“The energy savings and life expectancy of an LED is incrementally better,” said Shedd. “The early CFLs did not offer good color, they took a long time to reach full brightness, particularly in cold environments, and some failed prematurely – especially if they were used in enclosed fixtures.”
Derrill Holly writes on consumer and cooperative affairs for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, the national trade association representing more than 900 local electric cooperatives. From growing suburbs to remote farming communities, electric co-ops serve as engines of economic development for 42 million Americans across 56 percent of the nation’s landscape.