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It’s Easy Being Green: Let There Be “LED” Light

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Thomas Edison perfected the first incandescent light bulb in 1879. It burned for 13.5 hours. And incandescent bulbs are still burning 131 years later, but at a price that’s costly to both our wallets and the environment. Incandescents are extremely inefficient. They operate at about 20 percent efficiency with the other 80 percent given off as heat energy. And an incandescent light bulb’s average lifespan is only around 5,000 hours or roughly one year.

But while incandescents are looking more and more like the has-beens of light bulbs, light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, could be the future. LED bulbs are more efficient, less costly in the long run, and better for the environment because they use far less energy than the alternatives. An LED bulb’s lifespan is around 50,000 hours, or about 10 years, which means it lasts 10 times longer than an incandescent bulb. Its upfront cost is more expensive, but the longer lifespan means less money spent on replacing bulbs, fewer operating and maintenance costs from replacements, and less waste piling up in landfills across the country.

But most importantly, LED bulbs realize 80 percent efficiency and only give off 20 percent of their energy as heat. So simply put, LED light bulbs use less energy, and the energy that they do use is put to more efficient use. The potential to reduce our total energy consumption with LEDs—from single-family homes to the illumination of whole buildings—is enormous.

They’re also becoming easier to find. So easy, in fact, that you can find LED lights all over the Internet and even in stores like Home Depot. This month Home Depot will start selling several types of LED light bulbs in stores and online for less than $20 in an effort to get people to use more LED lighting. Perhaps $20 doesn’t seem cheap to you, but imagine if that one bulb lasts for 10 years.

LEDs are already a large part of daily life. They are found in digital clock numbers, remote controls, Christmas lights, and are even used together in some traffic lights. Implementing their use on a grander scale could have extremely positive effects.

Take Pittsburgh, for example. The city is considering replacing 40,000 high-pressure sodium lamp streetlights with LED streetlights. This energy-efficient move would save $1 million in energy costs, $700,000 in maintenance, and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 6,818 tons.

The price of LEDs is a barrier to their wider use, but prices seem to be decreasing faster than expected. Until recently, most experts didn’t think LED light bulbs (one equivalent to a 40-watt incandescent bulb) would be priced under $30 until after 2012. Luckily, they were wrong. (2012 is also the year that federal legislation bans the manufacturing of some forms of incandescent light bulbs in the states, and by 2014 most incandescent bulbs will be discontinued, furthering the purpose of LED lights.)

If the price of LEDs is still a hurdle for you, compact florescent lamps, or CFLs, are a cheaper alternative that are also much more efficient than incandescent bulbs.

Increasing LED light use in your home, at the office, or on the streets of your hometown can help reduce energy use and emissions (they also don’t contain mercury—another environmental advantage). So don’t hesitate to grab a friend or a neighbor and let them know about LED lighting’s green benefits. Go forth to share the knowledge and spread the light.

Read more articles from the "It’s Easy Being Green" series