Philips Defends New Energy Efficient Light Bulb

Philips defends new green light bulb sponsored by $10 million Department of Energy competitionJust when you thought all was quiet on the light bulb front, along comes another spoon of outrage to stir the pot. The latest trouble bubbled up last week with an article in the Washington Post under the rather overheated headline “Government-subsidized green light bulb carries costly price tag.” Things went quickly downhill from there as a slew of right-leaning blogs flogged the meme of a $10 million government investment in a light bulb that the article claimed would retail for $50, far beyond a realistic price for the general consumer market.

Things got so bad so quickly that Philips, manufacturer of the now-infamous “green light bulb” was compelled to issue a press release last Friday to defend both itself and the Department of Energy, which did indeed put up $10 million for its Bright Tomorrow Lighting Prize (aka L Prize), which was designed to spur private sector investment in high-efficiency lighting technology.

So, did we really pay $10 million and all we got was this lousy $50 light bulb?

The truth about the $50 light bulb

In a word, no.

Philips states that the actual retail price of its prizewinning bulb will be closer to $20, comfortably within the L Prize requirement of $22. That’s because the bulb will be sold through partnerships with utility companies, which will offer up to $30 in rebates.

As of last summer, when Philips was announced as the L Prize winner, the Department of Energy already had 31 utilities and other partners lined up to participate in the rebate program.

How a $50 light bulb saves you money

Philips also states that even without the rebate, the lifetime cost of its new bulb is only $82 compared to $213 for a conventional incandescent bulb, based on an electricity rate of 11 cents per kilowatt hour.

The sticky wicket is that incandescent technology is so cheap and simple, we are used to treating light bulbs like we treat disposable paper cups. At the $20 price point, advanced-technology light bulbs need to be viewed more like minor household appliances, like a clock or a blender, that are worth packing up and taking with you when you move.

Calculating the true lifetime cost of Philips’s new light bulb

In a detailed analysis of the Washington Post article, Brad Johnson of Think Progress points out that an earlier version contained no textual analysis of lifetime costs, only an infographic based on “extremely wrong” calculations. The infographic was later stripped from the article without explanation and replaced with more accurate information.

Philips’s new bulb is a 60-watt equivalent LED (light emitting diode) that uses only 10 watts, and it has a life cycle of 30,000 hours as demonstrated through extensive testing during the L Prize process. According to the Department of Energy, the typical lifespan of an incandescent bulb is only 1,000 hours.

Why such a fuss over light bulbs?

As for why a high-tech light bulb would send so many pundits into a tizzy, that goes back to last year, when legislators and thought leaders in the Republican Party tried to leverage new federal energy efficiency standards for light bulbs as a political wedge issue.

The­­­ new standards – which were signed into law by President Bush – began to phase in as scheduled on January 1 with barely a ripple of protest by actual consumers, so it looks like the L Prize is the next logical target for outrage – although, in the context of the $4 billion in annual subsidies that President Obama is fond of ascribing to the oil industry, $10 million to develop beneficial energy-related technology is small potatoes.

The benefits of a $10 million light bulb

Despite its dinky size in relation to other energy-related subsidies, the L Prize could have a significant impact on the U.S. energy landscape. The Department of Energy estimates that lighting sucks up about 18 percent of total U.S. electricity generation, so lighting is a logical target for an energy efficiency makeover, which in the case of incandescent light bulbs is sorely needed.

The century-old incandescent technology uses about 10 percent of its energy for light while cranking out the other 90 percent in the form of heat, which adds insult to injury by dumping an extra demand on air conditioning systems.

If widely adopted, high-efficiency lighting like the new Philips bulb could result in significant direct savings for individual households, as well as indirect savings related to a reduced demand for more power plants.

Energy-efficient lighting could also help more households meet their full energy demand with alternative sources, namely photovoltaic installations. With more households generating their own energy on site, the need to construct large centralized power plants is further reduced.

Green bulbs, green jobs

Demand for the new bulb would also help boost job creation in the U.S., since one condition of the L Prize is a U.S. manufacturing base.

Somewhat repetitively, that puts right-wing criticism of Philips’s new bulb in or near the same U.S. job-bashing category as the recent slagging of GM’s Chevy Volt. None other than the notorious Rush Limbaugh has called the Volt practically everything but “slut,” though it is manufactured in Detroit).

More and better green light bulbs

Meanwhile, undeterred by all the brouhaha over the Philips bulb, last week the Department of Energy announced that it is forging ahead with the next phase of the L Prize Competition. The new phase is designed to spur the development of high efficiency LED replacements for spotlights and floodlights commonly used in retail stores and track lighting as well as outdoor security lights.

Image: License Attribution Some rights reserved by Creative Tools.

Follow Tina Casey on Twitter: @TinaMCasey.


Tina writes frequently for Triple Pundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

23 responses

  1. There are greater troubling issues beyond the price. 

    The problem is that the L-Prize contest which was supposed to foster U.S. green technology competitiveness was RIGGED. 

    As a foreign based (headquartered) corporation Philips was excluded from eligibility according to the law that established the L-Prize, in particular public law 110-140 section 655(f)(1).  Under U.S. federal law the term “a primary place of business” used in the statute refers to the single headquarters location, which in the case of Philips is Amsterdam,Netherlands.  Philips, of course, would have known that they were ineligible, so they put out PR flak alleging that the bulb was the result of a global effort.  The truth, as evidenced in Philips patent on the bulb, is otherwise. See  The bulb was developed in the Netherlands.  Dept. of Energy energy bureaucrats who have been hobnobbing with Philips executives for years or DoE politicals who were looking for a photo-op apparently decided not to enforce the law.

    The L-Prize entry also failed to meet key technical requirements of the contest. The Philips entry does not meet the stated uniformity requirement of the contest.  This is admitted in a document obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, see http://TINYURL.COM/43ECMQM.  The curt justification asserted in that document based on comparing uniformity to a standard incandescent lamp is factually (quantifiably) false.  The putative L-Prize winner is actually less uniform

    The Philips entry also failed to produce the required amount of light.  In one test 62 out of 100 bulbs failed. (See above linked document) Whether the commercialized version will consistently produce the required amount of light is an open question, HOWEVER the stated procedure for the contest was that if the entry failed a required test the entry would fail.  What happened is that Philips wanted to submit prematurely to claim the prize and the Department of Energy did not want to follow the rules and fail them, rather they embarked on RIGGING the contest.  They kept the failure secret and proceeded with other tests.

    The result is that a bulb developed by Dutch inventors, built with some (possibly most) of its parts made in Shenzhen China (see ) has been given a great initial advantage which may allow it to dominate U.S. competitors, even though the contest is RIGGED. 

    We may wind up with Dutch citizens enjoying social welfare benefits such as vacations for the unemployed, supported by Chinese workers working 12 hours a day and American consumers squeezed by $50 light bulb prices whether they pay that amount at the check out counter or indirectly pay for subsidies through their electric bill.

    1. Was this a serious comment, or are joking?

      I bet after all that “research” you’ve really got a big smile on your face.

      If you’d be so kind as to think of the whole rather than the sum of it’s parts that’d be appreciated.

      I bet it’s difficult for you to fit your car in the garage with all those GE incandescent bulbs stack up. 

      You are what’s wrong with America.

    2. Re Philips etc…
      Philips, Osram,  the UN and the World Bank:
      How we will en.lighten the World in 2012
      The worldwide en.lighten program
      Public subsidies to allow major manufacturers to dump otherwise unsold bulbs on developing countries
      freedomlightbulb blogspot com /2012/02/philips-osram-and-un-how-we-will.html

      1. That link again

        1. Whenever someone links to a blogspot address for where their information is coming from — all credit is lost.

        2. (To Obviously Concerned re untrustwothy blogspot links)
          Hardly untrustworthy,
          if the references on the blog are to official sources on the matter!

        3. Yes, but when you seek out like minded individuals for like minded information, you get skewed results…

  2. Even if the Philips bulb costs 20 dollars…
    Not having to buy Expensive bulbs: 
    Thank you Texas. 
    Federal incandescent light bulb ban repealed in Texas June 2011 signed by Gov Perry. 
    The South Carollina bill will soon go to Gov. Nikki Haley for signing. 
    Ceolas net
    = US regulations, the Burgess Dec 2011 amendment, and 10 state repeal ban bill updates.

  3. So how does this energy savings connect to a lower inco9me renter whose utiities are included in teir rent/lease price? Why would they invest in a $20 (nee $50 less the paperwork gyrations) light bulb they can’t “…take with them…”?

    Stay out of my/our daily life decisions.

  4. RE “Lighting is 18% of total Electricity generation”

    Actually – from US Dept Energy OWN stats etc, only about 1% 
    of grid electricity is saved from a lighting switchover , as referenced:
    ceolas net /#li171x  (join up)

    Your 18 % figure
     (was 19% year before)  and how it is arrived at, is also there:
    It includes street lighting, and handily excludes transport and industry usage, etc
    so is not percentage of total usage either.

    As also shown, there are many much more relevant ways to save energy,
    in generation , distribution and alternative consumption.

  5. Moreover, re “90 % heat waste of incandescents”

    Somehow,  ban proponents always choose to “forget” that CFLs waste 80% of energy as heat and LEDs 70% – and it is a real waste, as their heat is internalized, in turn giving a greater fire risk especially with CFLs.
    Not only can incandescent heat be a useful benefit, as extensively research referenced,
    but the use is of course voluntary with air conditioning cooling, and may be preferred anyway, 
    for light quality reasons etc.

    All lighting is useful.
    None should be banned
    Light bulbs don’t burn coal or release CO2 gas,
    If there is a problem – deal with the problem.

    Savings are minimal, and there is no future source shortage for paying consumers anyway.
    Unnecessarily leaving lights on = Waste of energy
    The personal choice of what lighting to use = Not a waste of energy
    (and given the 45 lumen per watt end regulation standard, the touted “halogen” etc incandescent  replacements will eventually be banned too in phase 2 of the EISA legislation)

    The deception behind banning light bulbs:
    why the arguments don’t hold up, referenced –  Freedomlightbulb blogspot com

  6. lighthouse10 – your comments are almost incoherent.  Typical of the paranoia affecting people who think this is some kind of infringement on their “rights”.  

    1. Well, what exactly do you not understand, Dr Krokko?  ;-)

      Re “paranoia”, I have no problem at all saving energy.
      But light bulb regulation is as unnecessary as pointless in achieving it
      Even if bulbs had to be targeted (they don’t), stimulated market competition and taxation/subsidies would be better policies.

  7. Whatever way you spin who pays for this ( always passed on to final consumer or taxpayer) it still is a $50 lightbulb that will never justify itself no matter how the libs word it.

    1. I’d just like to point out that this Bulb has to be produced in the US as part of the L Prize conditions… If they’d been allowed to produce the bulb in China. It’d cost much less.

      It’s very much a “can’t have your cake and eat it too” situation:
      Americans want to keep jobs in the States, but put their hands up in the air crying when their made in America products cost more than the cheap imports they’re buy at Walmart.

      Somebody needs to give this countries head a shake.

        1. RE ObviouslyConcerned  and  bulbs nearly all made in China

          See the links from Philip Premysler post above(no doubt a like-minded individual too – but again with official links!)Incidentally I have no issue where the bulbs are made – as you and some articles say, the fact of having some components made in the USA also makes them more expensive
          “can’t have your cake and eat it too”  = true!

  8. I continue to be amazed at how much money can be saved by switching over to more efficient light bulbs, not to mention the fact that you rarely have to replace them, which is good for high, overhead lights. I met someone last week whose facility is saving $2000 a month on an investment of under $5K. That’s less than a three month return on investment!

    I also continue to be amazed by the right-wing propaganda against them. Why the tizzy over a small capital investment that returns continuous savings? Seems counter intuitive to me. Maybe they don’t understand the difference between politics and market forces.

  9. When I went to the hardware store recently, all of the LED bulbs on the shelf had labels that said “Made in China” or “Made in Mexico”.  Not one said “Made in USA.”

  10. Who is wagging the dog here?  You can pick up a 60w equivalent LED at your nearest home improvement store compliments of China for about 8 bucks (USD).

  11. This ban has absolutely nothing to do with being environmentally friendly or saving people energy, it is about allowing the large lightbulb manufacturers to make huge profits. The standard incandescents are very cheap and have a very thin profit margin. The CFLs and LEDs have a much higher profit margin, but people don’t like them, because their light-quality is terrible, they take long to light up, they aren’t dimmable, and so forth. Yes, you can now get CFLs with light quality almost as good as an incandescent and that light up instantly and are dimmable, but they are costly. And the retailers have been pushing the lightbulb companies to reduce the price of the bulbs, which they are doing at the expense of quality. They have tried giving away the CFLs and people still don’t want them. So the lighting industry lobbied the government to raise the energy standards for the bulbs to outlaw the cheap bulbs so people will be forced to buy the more expensive bulbs.

    The notion that these bulbs are going to save people energy is nonsense (they have found repeatedly in tests that the CFLs do not last anywhere near as long as advertised). But more to the point, industry isn’t going to shoot itself in the foot by making people buy more expensive bulbs that last so long that industry makes less money over the longer-term because people will start buying them far more infrequently. The idea is to make them last maybe a little longer than regular incandescents, but otherwise where people will still have to buy them very frequently, so that the companies can rake in huge profits.

    As for the issue of incandescents “wasting” heat, the industry claims the extra heat from the bulbs will make it harder for your air conditioner to cool during the summer time. Okay, so then wouldn’t that extra heat also make it EASIER for your heating system to heat your home in the winter time? To this, they say no, that the bulbs do not generate enough heat to heat the place any in the winter (but yet they supposedly can in the summer). They also pull this regarding the mercury in the CFLs. Industry calls for a special cleanup process if you break the bulb, but then claims things are being blown out of proportion when people say the bulbs are dangerous (um, then why the special cleanup process?).

    And contrary to what the leftists are saying, this is a ban on the incandescent. The energy-efficient incandescents are halogens and do not offer the same level of light quality as the regular incandescents (although very close), but more to the point, by 2020 the standards get raised so high that even the high-efficiency incandescents are outlawed. CFLs used to be considered the bulb of the future, but they are now just seen as a stop-gap measure, as the LED is seen as the bulb of the future. The problem is that LEDs are directional light, which is fine for headlamps and flashlights and so forth, but not for the light of a household which needs to scatter in all directions.

    How to fix this? LEDs aren’t really bulbs, they’re electronics, so what they do is on an individual LED “bulb” they array multiple LED lights in a circular pattern, so you get multiple directional lights going in pretty much every direction. Okay, but now there’s the problem of up and down. To fix this, the bulb-shaped covering that goes over the LEDs is shaped in such a fashion as to direct the light from the LEDs up and down. Okay, but another problem. The light color. LED light is usually a bright white or bluish color, which looks very sexy for headlamps on luxury cars, but not what people want lighting up their home. How to fix? They put a special phosphor covering on the bulb covering, which interacts with the LED light and make it look nice. This creates a bulb that ALMOST matches the incandescent. A bulb that costs exponentially more than the incandescent and almost matches it in terms of light quality. Yes, real progress there. REAL progress would be a bulb that matches or exceeds the light quality of the incandescent, yet is much more energy-efficient. For example, compare a car engine from 1950 to a car engine today. Modern engines are far more fuel-efficient, yet far more powerful. That’s progress.

    Oh yes and just to manufacture all of this is very complex. It really is insanity that we are doing all of this insane engineering to try to match what is an already pretty much perfect technology with no equal, the incandescent. Some say, well the incandescent is over 100 years-old, we need progress. Sure, but CFLs and LEDs are not progress, they’re a step backwards. The internal combusion engine is also over 100 years-old, but we still use it because there is no viable alternative. Some say, people complained when we first started switching from record albums to tapes and CDs. Yes, but that was due to market demand, not the government outlawing record albums. For the stubborn, you can still buy record albums. It’s a niche industry, but it exists for those who want them. The light bulb industry knows that if they allow the incandescents to remain legal, then some new company would start making them, experience spectacular demand as they’d be so cheap and offer very great performance and light quality, and pretty much destroy the demand for the CFLs and LEDs.

    Another thing people don’t think of is that they likely could make incandescent bulbs that last longer than they do. You’re telling me that modern 21st century engineering couldn’t make a very long-lasting incandescent bulb?

    I find the claims about the LEDs that will last fifteen to twenty years to be laughable. Seriously, who are they kidding!? These companies aren’t going to start making a product that lasts so long that people don’t have to buy a replacement for fifteen to twenty years. They didn’t spend all that money lobbying to ban the incandescents for nothing. Oh, I bet they could technologically build such lights, but for profit reasons, no way are they going to make them last that long.

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