Wherever you go these days, you see businesses switching their lighting systems from old-fashioned incandescent or harsh fluorescent to bright and shiny new LEDs. The local supermarket, the office where you work, the train station, restaurant or department store—all of these businesses are seeing the benefits of this rapidly developing technology. The light produced by LED bulbs is brighter and warmer and more focused than ever before, and business owners love the savings to their energy bills. But what about consumers?
Are consumers embracing this technology for their home lighting? Soon we will have no choice but to replace the old, inefficient energy-consuming incandescent bulbs which have been in use for more than a century. But there’s a lot of evidence that North American consumers are still resistant to the LED replacement option. In Japan, market penetration of LED bulbs has apparently reached 50 percent, and vendors there expect it to reach 90 percent soon. This is the highest level in the world so far.
But North Americans don’t like the cost and many, without really knowing about the latest developments in LED lighting design, don’t believe that they like the light LEDs cast. They think it’s cold or harsh or too blue or too dim.
TIME magazine has an essay about the subject of LED acceptance this week, saying that this is the year consumers will get over that first big stumbling block and move to LEDs in a big way. Why? Because for the first time, in the American marketplace, there will be LED light bulbs on sale for about $10. This, say retail experts, is the magic number that will give consumers a reason to try LED bulbs out. Both Cree and Philips, two major LED bulb manufacturers, say they will have them out this year. In Europe, the best you can get will be a new German bulb costing about $13.
Now maybe you don’t think a $10 light bulb is much of an improvement, cost wise, when you could buy a whole pack of four incandescents for about $3. But remember, each LED bulb will last about twenty years—more depending on usage patterns—and consume much less energy than the old bulbs you used to use. According to experts, 90 percent of the energy given off by an incandescent bulb is useless heat. Compact fluorescent bulbs aren’t much better with 80 percent heat loss. But LEDs remain cool to the touch even after hours of use. It is this characteristic that makes LED lighting particularly appropriate in settings where maintaining a cool temperature is critical, such as refrigerated displays in supermarkets.
The prices will inevitably drop further as technology advances and competition heats up. A Canadian company, Leapfrog Lighting, specializes in LED lighting for commercial applications. It has been working on new types of lights that will give even greater performance at lower cost for business users.
As for the quality of the light produced by the latest generation of LED bulbs, most would find it hard to distinguish from the kind of lighting they are used to in their home. A significant difference, however, is that you get more light from lower-wattage bulbs. More exciting is the emerging programmable lighting coming from makers like Philips. This is not about simply turning your lights on and off from your cell phone, which is somewhat amazing. With the programmable LED lights, you can choose the color range of the lighting you want, from whiter and brighter during the day to yellower and warmer at night. There are apps that let you program your lighting by mood and activity: relax, work, concentrate, read, etc.
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