July 6, 2011


The World's Greatest Light Bulb: Dump your flourescents and incandescents for this amazing new LED bulb. (Farhad Manjoo, July 5, 2011, Slate)

When I arrived at Switch, Brett Sharenow, the company's chief strategy officer, showed me two lamps. Inside one was a standard 75-watt incandescent bulb. Switch's 75-watt replacement bulb, which uses only 16 watts of power, was plugged into the other. The lampshades prevented me from seeing the bulbs directly—I couldn't tell which lamp contained which bulb. When Sharenow turned on the lamps, the light from each lamp looked identical. The moment was completely undramatic, and that was the point. Switch has spent years developing bulbs that produce something thoroughly unexceptional—light that looks exactly like what we're used to.

Turned off, a Switch bulb looks like an incandescent from the future. It's got the same pear shape as a standard bulb, but it's divided into two sections. The bottom half is composed of a wavy metallic structure that looks like the wings of a badminton birdie. Above that is a thick glass orb filled with a cooling agent and a bank of LEDs, which are semiconductors that produce light. Because LEDs use a fraction of the energy required to light up the filament in an incandescent bulb, they're seen as the next great advance in light bulbs. LEDs have advantages over CFLs, too—they don't contain dangerous chemicals, and they can be used in lamps with dimmer switches (only certain CFLs are dimmable). A host of start-ups, as well as many of the giants in the lighting industry, are working on LED bulbs that mimic incandescents. At the lighting industry's annual trade show in Philadelphia in May, several companies showed off their LED technology. Switch was among a handful that unveiled prototypes of a 100-watt-equivalent LED bulb, which is considered a kind of tipping point for LEDs—if someone can make an LED bulb that looks as great as a 100-watt incandescent, the LED bulb will have finally arrived. [...]

Switch's 60-watt-replacement bulb will sell for about $20, and the 75-watt and 100-watt replacements will cost slightly more. This will be cheaper than other LED bulbs—Phillips sells a 60-watt replacement LED bulb that goes for about $45, for instance. But $20 for a light bulb still sounds expensive. Incandescent bulbs sell for about 50 cents to $1 per bulb, and CFL bulbs have been approaching that same low price. LED bulbs seem to break the bank by comparison.

But that's only until you do the math. On average, an incandescent bulb lasts about 1,000 hours—that's about a year, if you keep it on for about three hours a day. Electricity in America also costs about 11 cents per kilowatt hour (that's the average; it varies widely by region). In other words, a 50-cent, 60-watt incandescent bulb will use about $6.60 in electricity every year. Switch's 60-watt-equivalent LED, meanwhile, uses only 13 watts of power, so it will cost only $1.43 per year. The Switch bulb also has an average lifespan of 20,000 hours—20 years. If you count the price of replacing the incandescent bulb every year, the Switch bulb will have saved you money by its fourth year. Over 20 years, you'll have spent a total of about $142 for the incandescent bulbs (for electricity and replacement bulbs) and less than $50 for Switch's 60-watt bulb.

Nothing costs more than it used to...

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Posted by at July 6, 2011 6:52 AM

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