November 8, 2011


Don't Curse the Darkness, Get One of the Bright New Lights (Smithsonian, 11/07/11)

On New Year's Day, the ban on producing 100-watt incandescent bulbs kicks in, the first wave of the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA), which will also phase out lower-wattage bulbs over the next few years. Incandescent bulbs, revolutionary in their day, are one of the more inefficient inventions of the past century--90 percent of the energy they use goes to creating heat and only 10 percent produces light. So, many people, including light bulb manufacturers and President George Bush, thought banning the bulbs was a good idea when the law passed in 2007. [...]

Bottom line, though, is that CFLs are more likely to be a phase we go through on our way to light-emitting diodes, better known as LEDs. Now those are 21st century light bulbs--consuming one-tenth the energy of incandescents, but able to last 50 times longer. (To see how the three types of bulbs stack up against each other, see Popular Mechanics' "Ultimate Light Bulb Test.")

Of course, there's the matter of the price. These are not times when people want to hear about $20 light bulbs.  Understood. But some experts think the price could drop under $10 in a few years.  And keep in mind, you'll probably change the oil in your car a dozen times or more before you'll have to change an LED bulb.

Not only will LEDs change how we view bulbs, they'll change how we view lighting. A company called Nth Degree Technologies is producing lights that look like glowing sheets of paper and can actually be wrapped around curved surfaces. On a much larger scale is City Touch, a system developed by Phillips in which LED lighting in a city automatically adjusts to weather, traffic and people walking by at night. Phillips claims it could cut urban lighting costs by 70 percent.

Have a problem with jet lag? LED lights can help with that, too. They're being programmed in airplane cabins on transcontinental flights to smooth the circadian rhythms of passengers.

Try that with Tom Edison's light bulb.

Posted by at November 8, 2011 5:10 AM

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