LED light bulbs catching on as an alternative

Energy-efficient lighting may have looked ugly and harsh in years past, but that may be changing with the emergence of the LED light bulb.

LED bulbs, based on the same kinds of low-emitting diodes used to light cell phones, TVs and other devices, are a low-energy alternative to incandescent bulbs that provide similar light quality that people actually like, according to a recent New York Times story.

The bulbs consume far less energy than incandescent versions and will last more than a decade —  as long as 15 years or more, by some estimates. But that has made them more expensive than traditional bulbs, according to the Times.

LED bulbs are now among three main options for consumers looking to cut energy use through lighting, said Cathy Choi, chairwoman of the American Lighting Association’s education board and president of lighting manufacturer Bulbrite. Halogen bulbs can cut energy use by 28 percent for the equivalent lighting of a 100-watt bulb with similar lighting to “an old-fashioned grandma bulb,” Choi said.

Compact fluorescent bulbs can provide more savings, cutting energy use by more than 70 percent, but can give off light that is less appealing to many consumers, she said.

LED light bulbs do not deliver exactly the same light as incandescent bulbs, but offer a warmer, more familiar glow than compact fluorescent bulbs and more energy savings, Choi said. For the equivalent light of a 100-watt incandescent bulb, an LED bulb could use as few as 15 watts, she said.

The options make energy efficiency through lighting more appealing, Choi said.

“It’s an easy way for consumers to save money and save energy not have to give up the light quality that they are used to,” Choi said.

More details on LED bulbs from the Times:

And because the light in LED bulbs comes from chips, companies have been able to develop software applications that let users control the bulbs, even change the color of the light, with tablets and smartphones. Apple sells a three-pack of such bulbs, made by Philips, with the hardware to operate them for about $200.

Check out a Consumer Reports video on those Philips hue light bulbs here.

Some versions of LED light bulbs sell for around $10 on Amazon.

Philips also makes an LED light bulb that won the U.S. Department of Energy’s first L Prize award for innovative energy-efficient lighting.

The L Prize contest “challenged the lighting industry to strive to develop super high-performance, energy-saving replacements for conventional light bulbs that will save American consumers and businesses money,” according to a 2011 announcement about the award.

Although the Philips bulbs appear to be a yellow color when off, they produce a soft white light that is similar to a traditional 60-watt incandescent bulb while using energy at a rate of only 10 watts, according to the company.

“If every 60-watt incandescent bulb in the U.S. was replaced with the 10-watt L Prize winner, the nation would save about 35 terawatt-hours of electricity or $3.9 billion in one year and avoid 20 million metric tons of carbon emissions,” according to a department news release.

Seeking out energy-efficient lighting options can be confusing for consumers, however, Choi said. The federal government has recently been encouraging companies to label light bulbs based on their brightness, measured in lumens, she said.

A typical 100-watt indandescent bulb, for example, produces light at a brightness of about 1,500 lumens, Choi said. An LED light bulb could produce those same 1,500 lumens using energy at a far lower rate, as low as 15 watts.

See more about the Department of Energy’s L Prize testing here: