Getting the skinny on LEDs and CFLs
Troy Media – by David Dodge
In 1812 you had to harpoon a 40-ton sperm whale and drain its oil to get a little bedside reading done. In 2012 you can use a $10-million dollar LED bulb to do the same thing.
While the prices of LED lights have already plummeted, they are still relatively expensive. Yet, despite the expense, individuals and commercial users are installing them because of their long life, low maintenance costs and stout return on investment.
Lighting accounts for about 11 per cent of electricity use in an average Canadian home and 38 per cent in commercial buildings. That typical Canadian home also has an average of 30 light fixtures and the average Canadian spends about $130 per year on electricity to light their home.
While changing your light bulbs has become a cliché in the green movement, there’s a reason it’s a cliché. Changing your light bulbs is the simplest and fastest way to use less energy.
The $10 million dollar lightbulb
The quirky looking Phillips Ambient LED was the very first winner of the $10 million L-Prize, an initiative by the U.S. Department of Energy to create a 60-watt incandescent light bulb replacement. The 60-watt bulb makes up nearly half of the American light bulb market; finding an energy efficient replacement only made sense.
The winning bulb had to recreate the size, dimmability, light pattern and warm white glow of a regular bulb all while being five times more efficient.
The trickiest part? Recreating that comfortable color temperature we’ve all grown up with. With early stage LEDs suffering from a cold, bluish cast, the engineers at Phillips came up with an interesting workaround.
It’s not easy to see the genius of this bulb until you take it apart. Lift up the three yellow plastic flaps and you’ll see six blue LEDs. The blue LEDs produce radiated light that excites the phosphorous embedded in the yellow plastic which then emits a warm whitish light of its own. In effect, it’s using a light to turn on another light.
To the casual observer all this talk about LEDs might be a bit much. After all, you probably just got used to buying compact fluorescents (CFLs). To guide you (and us!) through this tricky subject we talked to Wayne Rogers of Luminessence Lighting.
Wayne Rogers is a lighting expert, an engineer and the inventor of several successful super efficient fixtures. He’s been involved with the lighting business since the 1980s. He’s helped the University of Alberta with efficient light upgrades to about 900,000 square metres of space to date.
We asked him to break down the differences between LEDs and CFLs:
Advantages of CFLs
- Cheap, mature technology – good 13 watt CFL bulbs are $2.66 each in a six pack, much less than a 12.5 watt LED at $30
- Warm, solid color rendering
- Energy efficient – LEDs and CFLs are both four to six times more efficient than incandescent light bulbs
- Cool to the touch – CFLs produce little heat and aren’t affected by high temperatures
Disadvantages of CFLs
- Dimmable – special dimmable CFLs cost more and can be unreliable
- Cold fearing – not effective in the cold
- “R” challenged – Bulbs are difficult to recycle and contain traces of mercury
- Lifespan – A typical CFL lasts 10,000 hours
Advantages of LEDs
- Light projection – LEDs are very effective at directing light where it needs to go
- Cold loving – LEDs actually perform better the colder it gets
- Long life –LEDs will last 25,000 hours compared to 10,000 hours for a CFL
- Rapid improvements – costs are coming down and the technology is improving
- Flexible – from cars to flashlights, homes and businesses, LEDs are spurring innovation
- Good with the vibe – LEDs are ok for use in vibrating ceiling fans.
Disadvantages of LEDs
- Relatively expensive – $20 to $40 for a bulb sure seems like a lot compared to $2 to $5 for good quality CFLs
- Color rendering – early stage LEDs leave something to be desired when it comes to their color
- Sensitive to heat – LEDs also produce more heat than CFLs
Choose CFLs to save energy and money or choose LEDs to be a cool early adopter and save money, even at their higher prices. Look for the EnergyStar label as evidence of independent testing and good energy efficiency. Whatever lights you use in your home, remember the best lighting is natural lighting and that well-designed fixtures can nearly double the light you get from each watt of energy invested.
Troy Media columnist David Dodge is the host and producer of Green Energy Futures, a multi-media series presented at www.greenenergyfutures.ca. The series is supported by TD, Suncor Energy and the Pembina Institute.