We all want to do our share to maintain our existing environment. Many of us are concerned that human activities are adding to the heat of the planet. This is due to the actual burning of fossil fuels and then the greenhouse effect of the CO2 in the atmosphere. Just a small change in temperatures can cause a large change in weather patterns.
The problem is that the whole situation is so huge it is hard to get motivated when as individuals we can only make a small effect and we are typically limited in how many resources we can direct to such a lofty goal as “saving the environment”. However, if the process means we actually spend fewer resources and directly and quickly benefit, then small effects can become a movement and large effects are a result.
This certainly seems like a lofty goal, but in fact it is attainable, measurable and currently available. Light emitting diodes are known as LED lights. They are another of the magical products created with semi-conducting materials. Due to advancements in the manufacturing processes, we have had LED lights with a high efficiency for many years. However, it has only been in the last few years that the price has come down to the point a person is foolish not to make a change from whatever form of lighting currently used.
LED lights are more efficient than other forms of lighting for one simple reason. Most of the energy that goes into an LED fixture is converted to light in the visible spectrum. Not only can the manufacturers of these LED bulbs make sure that all the light generated is visible, it is in a narrow spectrum of light that is “warm”, “natural”, “white” or any other color. Only 5% of the energy entering an efficient LED fixture is converted to heat. You cannot touch an incandescent light bulb because most of the energy used by the bulb is converted to heat, which is not visible and therefore does nothing to provide light. It is as simple as that.
Rather than talk about percentage efficiency increases of LEDs compared to other forms of lighting, let’s look at the economics and the fiscal reality of an LED lighting upgrade. This is for the purpose of showing that the current financial payback is so fast that every household and commercial building should perform an LED lighting upgrade this minute. If all the lighting in the country and around the world was converted to LED lighting, we would have a large effect and we would all benefit financially. That is the type of solution that brings real-world results without any fund raising or government subsidizing.
A financial payback when lighting is concerned is a simple equation. Let’s assume that we are seeking the same amount of light output from our fixture. All we need to do is multiply the difference between the number of Watts of the old fixture and the new fixture times the hours per time period times the cost of electricity. Electricity is sold by the kilo Watt hour, at a rate of $.05-$.50/kWh. That is a wide variation, but that variation exists in the mainland United States. Light fixtures are rated by input Watts. A typical 60-Watt incandescent bulb is replaced by a 20-Watt compact fluorescent which can be replaced by a 9-Watt LED bulb. In an office, the bulbs run about 10 hours a day. I am sure you have seen buildings with the bulbs running all night. So how long does it take to pay for a new LED bulb? You can see it depends on what type of bulb you are replacing, the number of hours you are running the bulb and the cost of electricity.
Using an LED bulb in place of an incandescent bulb and running it 10 hours a day in an area that charges $.25/kWh (like in PG&E territory), you would save $3.75 per month. You can buy that bulb for $1.00. In other words, if you spent your dollar, you would pay yourself back that dollar with energy savings in a week. And you would pay yourself back that dollar for every week until the bulb burned out. Like anything else, there are low quality bulbs that will not last as long as commercially rated bulbs that cost $3.75 for a typical household light bulb. In that case, it would take all month to pay yourself back.
Many companies have lighting bills in the thousands of dollars a month. Replacing these fixtures with quality LED fixtures in California will have a payback of less than one year. The same details about the cost of electricity and the amount of time the lights are on apply of course. These companies also will be able to depreciate the expense of the lights, reducing the effective cost and reducing the payback time. PG&E has rebates and zero interest financing to make the initial investment less and easier to make. It doesn’t matter how long ago you improved your lighting; that is sunk costs and has no effect on a future investment decision other than emotional. A one year payback is still a one year payback. You would save that much money every year for the next 5-10 years until the fixtures need replacing. Present commercial fixtures last 50,000 hours, with 5-7-year warranties.
As the volume of LED fixtures manufactured increases, we will see the price of these fixtures come down and their efficacy increase. That will make it even easier to help save our planet’s environment while at the same time saving money for more worthwhile uses than paying an electric bill.
So rather than do something hard like march for energy savings, or live in a cold house, just look into saving yourself or your company some money by investing in better, brighter LED light fixtures. It makes sense to convert the fixtures you use the most often first, then the rest as you see the benefits of the first few changes. It also makes sense for areas with a high electricity rate like in PG&E territory to make these changes first, because the paybacks are faster. The other areas with lower rates can make their changes after the prices have come down from the volume created by these early adopters.
While you are at it, take advantage of the other features of LED bulbs, such as wireless controls, automatic dimming so that as light comes in the windows, the lights dim, color definition for specific tasks, and modernistic looking fixtures.
Save money, get better light and give Mother Earth a break.