Tuesday, October 30, 2012

LED Lighting Revolution: It's About Time!

LED lights have been around for a while now (first practical use in 1962!), but with the falling prices of CFLs and the dirt cheap incandescent lights still available its been pretty hard to make a good case for a $50 LED bulb... especially with the cost of electricity at 0.12 $/kWh on average...

Things are changing though; current generation LED lights have fixed the problems with color/dispersion/dimming that plagued earlier bulbs, and LEDs are available at large retailers like Walmart, Home Depot and Lowes (and online at Amazon) which are helping to drive down costs. Right now, you can buy your standard 60 W equivalent LED bulb for around $20-30, which is a huge improvement from the past but still a large investment to make in a product with uncertain longevity. After all, my experience with CFLs has been pretty bad... they might save energy now, but in a year or two when they burn out it's hard to justify the price. I mean, they're suppose to last 5-7 years under normal use (theoretically resulting in substantial savings), but at least in my experience, that's far from the truth (judging by online reviews, it seems like I'm not alone). So, when it comes to LEDs I can see how people might be hesitant, especially with manufacturers touting 20+ year lifespans. Although in my experience, LEDs tend to last longer than the electronics their in! I'm still left thinking, if I buy one of these for 2-3 times the price of a CFL is it really going to last anywhere near 20 years or will it die 5 years from now, after the warranty runs out (and I've lost my receipt)  and with no option but to buy another one? Plus, they always make a big deal about the pay-back period for their LED bulb vs the standard incandescent... but I've never seen it compared to their real competition, the CFL bulb which would be much longer! 

Test Case (Kitchen Lighting, assuming 8 hrs/day, 0.12 $/kWh): Cost Per Year

65 W BR30 Incandescent [$4] - 0.065 kW * 2920 h/year * 0.12 $/kWh = 22.78 $/year

16 W BR30 CFL [$10] - 0.016 kW * 2920 h/year * 0.12 $/kWh = 5.61 $/year

13 W BR30 LED [$25] - 0.013 kW * 2920 h/year * 0.12 $/kWh = 4.56 $/year

So, the LED bulb pays for itself in just over a year vs the incandescent, which is what they use to sell the bulb...  but when we compare the LED to the CFL it would take a little over 14 years (just comparing energy savings)!!! This is where the longevity of LED bulbs comes into play, since you'd have to replace the CFL numerous times (every 2 years in my experience). At that rate, it takes a little over 4 years before you break even and start saving money with an LED, which is pretty reasonable in my book.

In light of all this, I will never buy another CFL again! If their short life (on/off applications especially) and toxic mercury vapor weren't enough, now I finally have a financial reason to go with LED lights as well... but which ones should you buy? And out of the hundreds of companies, which products are quality?

I've bought LED lights from many different suppliers, and read over hundreds of reviews to figure out just that... I ordered the Philips L-Prise winning LED bulb, various bulbs from HitLights and GE... they all worked well, but it wasn't until I came across the G7 Power line of bulbs that I new I had found the answer. They were built well (the BR30/BR20 bulbs are like tanks) and had good color accuracy (CR > 80) with high efficiency (greater than 60 lumens/watt, the higher the better; the A21 G7 standard bulb produces 100 lumens/watt!) Note: check this number since many manufacturers inflate their equivalent light output rating, claiming their 9 W LED is 60 W equivalent, even though it's only 500 lumens (only 56 lumens/watt, low efficiency). Plus, they offer a Lifetime warranty on all their bulbs. So if one fails... ever... you can send it in and get a replacement. That's a pretty sweet deal, and since I'm ordering them off Amazon I don't have to worry about keeping track of receipts. I love the G7 LEDs, the 3000K color temp is perfect for most applications (slightly cooler than incandescent, but warmer than bright white/daylight) and the dimming ability saves even more on energy costs! Their whole line of bulbs are below:

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