Philips Unveils LED Replacement for the Most Common Household Light Bulb

Royal Philips Electronics introduced the world’s first LED replacement for the most common household bulb Wednesday, at the Lightfair International Tradeshow in Las Vegas.

The 12-watt EnduraLED light bulb is designed to replace the 60-watt incandescent, which currently represents about 50 percent of the domestic market, according to Philips. About 425 million 60-watt bulbs were sold last year.

The EnduraLED lasts 25 times longer and uses 80 percent less energy than a 60-watt incandescent, a $120 savings over the life of the bulb, Philips said. The EnduraLED is the first and so far only entrant in the Department of Energy’s L Prize lighting efficiency competition.

The announcement marks an important milestone for the LED lighting industry, which is still a distant third in the lighting market behind incandescent bulbs and the first generation of energy efficient bulbs, compact fluorescents (CFLs).

LED, or light-emitting diode, bulbs use less energy and last longer than both incandescent and CFL bulbs, but currently cost much more — an LED replacement for a 40 watt bulb made by GE is priced at $40-50. A similar CFL costs a couple bucks. Incandescents, which will be gradually banned in the US starting in 2012, are typically less than 50 cents each.

The EnduraLED “will be in the $60 range,” when in goes on sale late this year, according to Silvie Casanova, a Philips spokesperson, who cautioned that “a lot can change by then.”

LED bulbs also tend to be less bright than incandescents or CFLs, but Philips says the EnduraLED produces 806 lumens, about the same as a 60 watt incandescent.

Although they represent only a tiny share of the market now, LEDs are poised to catch up quickly. Just this week, Samsung announced it would be investing over $8 billion in LED lighting, an investment of scale that is sure to push down prices. GE, Philips and other manufacturers are also investing heavily in the technology.

It’s not hard to see why: if the price of the bulbs can be brought down (below $15, according to one analysis) their energy savings are palpable. They are also more environmentally friendly to make and dispose of that CFLs.

It may take some time, however, for consumers to adjust to spending that much on a lightbulb. LED’s savings come over long time spans, but for the average shopper looking to grab a quick fix for a burnt-out bulb, such calculations may be a little abstract. And if you rent, buying for the long term does not make much sense.

Plus, buying a bulb that will last 17 years or more is a major aesthetic commitment: one light bulb could illuminate a child’s first steps through sending her off to college.

BC (Ben) Upham is a freelance writer based in Los Angeles. He has written for the New York Times, and was a writer and editor for News Communications, Inc., a local paper consortium serving Manhattan. When he's not blogging on green issues -- and especially renewable energy -- he's hiking in the Angeles Mountains or hanging out at El Matador.