Never-Ending Opportunities

Picture for Blog 031214



 LED TW ‘Light Bulb’


What Is It?


It is the shape of an incandescent lamp. It produces the same quality of light as an incandescent lamp. It comes on instantly, like an incandescent lamp. So is it an incandescent lamp? Possibly not. These days, it might be an LED. One recent product seems to represent a significant advance on anything else.

Cree, a major US manufacturer of light-emitting diodes (LEDs), has been steadily expanding its range of LED ‘light bulbs’. They reduce electricity consumption by 75-80% compared to incandescent or halogen bulbs. That alone is not unusual; LEDs made for the last four to five years do that.

What makes its newest LEDs very interesting is the light quality. It should be good enough to rival the light from an incandescent or halogen light bulb [1] [2].




In their home market, these LEDs are being sold in DIY sheds for as little as $15-20(£8-12) per bulb. Not just that; there is a manufacturer’s guarantee of ten years.

If Cree or another company were to make millions more, this time at 240 V, how good would the economics look in the UK or the rest of the EU? In principle, excellent.

Mr. Smith replaces ten 60 watt (W) bulbs by LEDs, costing £100. Nothing in his house looks significantly different from before. Lights still come on instantly. At a usage of 1,000 hours per year, and with electricity costing 14 pence per kWh, these ten bulbs consume 120 kWh of electricity per year. The electricity costs £16.80. The total cost over ten years is £168 for electricity and £100 for bulbs, totalling £268.

Without fitting LEDs, halogen lamps or incandescents would cost him £5 every year for bulbs and another £84 for electricity. The total cost over ten years is £840 for electricity and £50 for bulbs, totalling £890.

So, over ten years; i.e., the guarantee period, his net saving is £890 minus £268, say £620. A bargain to anyone whose time horizon stretches for more than a year into the future. CO2 emissions over ten years are reduced by 2.6 tonnes [3].

If LEDs need no overall subsidy, what a difference from all too many ‘green energy measures’ which are conventionally favoured by commentators – and by Ministers. Some of these technologies cannot even compete with oil at today’s price [4].




Somewhat frustratingly, we cannot yet obtain these high colour quality, ‘affordable’ LEDs in Europe. They are only made for a 120 volt (V) AC, 60 cycles per second (Hertz, Hz) mains electricity supply. I asked Cree when similar LEDs might become available for 240 V but they did not know.

Unless, and until, other manufacturers launch similar or better products, also at £8-10 per bulb, I shall keep my existing CFLs and wait for the overall balance of price/colour/efficacy of LEDs to improve. I am not too impressed by existing LED lamps and their rather poor colour rendering, nor by the premium prices being asked for high-CRI LEDs.


Constant Progress


At a stroke, these new LED lamps make existing incandescent or halogen lamps obsolete. Over its lifetime, the LED saves electricity worth more than it has cost; i.e., it yields a net profit. The reduced CO2 emissons come as a bonus on top and cost nothing. As Amory Lovins put it, these technologies abate climate change at a profit.

Energy efficiency opportunities are still emerging faster than existing ones are being implemented, making negawatts somewhat of a moving target. Companies which concentrate their efforts on subsidised and expensive energy supply should perhaps re-focus on the many energy efficiency measures which could be implemented at lower cost than buying fossil fuels. Could these energy suppliers be in the wrong business?




Long experience tells us that small consumers can be slow to take up investments, even ones which save £600. To deploy such technology, I continue to believe that the most effective step would be to re-regulate UK utility companies, as outlined in my 5 January 2014 blog, and impose tough targets on them. Perhaps ask them to cut per capita CO2 emissions in their region by 40% by 2025 and 65% by 2030, compared to 1990 levels?

As if to prove my point about re-regulation, these new LED lamps seem to have been launched thanks to the efforts of California’s Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and Energy Commission (CEC). CEC wrote a tight specification requiring manufacturers to come up with better quality light than today’s LEDs [5]. By 2014, the TW lamp was on sale in most US states.

Until the EU or one or more member states take similar initiative(s), I presume that European consumers must wait. I would like the EU to give member states more freedom to act on this independently of the Commission; see my blog of 14 August 2014.



[2] Technically, the colour rendering index (CRI) is 93, not far from the 100 for halogen. By comparison, the CRI is about 80 for today’s mass-market LEDs, 85 for T5 fluorescents or compact fluorescent (CFLs) and 70-75 for older halophosphate fluorescent tubes. The CRI has limitations as an indication of overall colour balance and acceptablity to consumers. Reputable companies do not usually use the CRIs to mislead purchasers but cheap CFLs and LEDs sometimes promise better colour rendering than they deliver.
[3] Assuming CO2 emissions of 0.55 kg per kWh, as in UK Building Regulations SAP calculations. It may be higher in some circumstances, given the amount of electricity still generated from coal.
[4] This was around $100/barrel for some time. It has recently slipped nearer to $70/barrel, thanks to increased supplies.