LEDs: The Light Bulb of the Future?

Sep 7, 2012

Light bulbs that rely on LED technology may soon be the best way to light your home. Courtney Flatt checked into a study that says LED light bulbs are becoming the best environmental choice.

You may think buying light bulbs seems to get more complicated every day.

Samantha Supplee: “We have an entire aisle dedicated to straight light bulbs. There’s so many choices. So many different sizes, so many different shapes. I mean, everything.”

Supplee is the light bulb specialist at a local hardware store. She says people come in with questions all the time. Supplee says she does see more people buying energy-efficient lighting.

There are the compact fluorescents – those pig tail looking lights. The LEDs – they look a little more traditional, but many have cooling “fins” on the side. And then there are the usual incandescent lights.

Researchers at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory have analyzed each of these options. They’ve studied the entire lifecycle of LED, compact fluorescent and incandescent bulbs. The study took into account everything from mining the resources used to make the bulbs to the environmental impact of their disposal.

Marc Ledbetter works with the lab. He says LED technology is improving in the next five years. Ledbetter says it will be twice as efficient as those on the market now.

Ledbetter: “The LED lamps are a very new technology, and so they are improving very, very rapidly. Every year, you can go into the store and find lamps that are significantly improved over the lamps that were available last year.”

One of the trade-offs: currently LEDs are more expensive. They can cost $20 to $50  for a light bulb, but they will last about 20 years. That’s compared to CFLs that cost around $10 and are designed to last about 10 years.

Ledbetter says the rise of LED lamps does not signal the end of compact florescent lights. He says CFLs work better in some settings – like a desk lamp. Because 20 percent of the nation’s energy use comes from lighting, Ledbetter says, it’s important to understand the different options available.

Copyright 2012 Northwest Public Radio