LED lights make their way home

ROB STOCK
Last updated 05:00 13/01/2013
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Light emitting diodes: Light is emitted from 'excited electrons'. They produce less heat, and are therefore more energy-efficient.

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Bright sparks are switching to less-power-hungry LED lighting for their homes in a bid to save money and eliminate the annoyance of blown lightbulbs.

The past six months has seen the price of LED bulbs - the LED stands for "light-emitting diode" - drop dramatically, leading to a groundswell of interest from households.

The attraction of LEDs over ordinary incandescent bulbs, halogen bulbs and energy-saving lightbulbs comes from several advantages, their makers claim.

They are very robust and so need replacing extremely rarely. Cyclists are long used to LEDs coping with the bumps and bangs they have to take as bike-lights.

LEDs emit very little heat, making them far less power-hungry and far safer than halogens, which are being banned in some parts of the world as a fire risk. Their proponents also make claims that the quality of the light they emit is more constant and pleasant to experience.

But the economics of LEDs have until recently not been attractive enough to see them used by more than just a few early-adopters. Though longer-term power savings have been there for some time, the high cost of a bulb has been a barrier.

That has now changed, said Paul Crewther, owner of the LED World store in Auckland, and the specifications of the bulbs have also risen.

"Up until the last six months they were a little bit on the expensive side and a little on the dull side, and a little on the big side," said Crewther. "The manufacturers have made them smaller, brighter and cheaper."

It has also helped that some bulk purchasers, such as the supermarkets and power company Genesis, have become involved.

In a bid to win customer loyalty, the state-owned power company - one of those in line for partial selldown by the Government - has been using its large customer base to negotiate discount prices for customers. It has an LED bulb scheme that brings the cost per bulb down from just under $30 a bulb to just under $20.

Crewther said the cost per bulb has led adopters to replace existing bulbs as they blow with LEDs to spread the cost of their investment, which otherwise would run into hundreds of dollars for an ordinary home.

He said customers have found their way to LED bulbs largely through word of mouth, or sparked by some nasty household event like a burn from a halogen bulb, but the improved economics of LEDs mean they have become more marketable and their profile is likely to rise as businesses seek to promote them.

There are plenty of cost-saving calculators and guides available online for consumers interested in making the switch to LED bulbs, though they are all based on many assumptions and, as individuals' power usage varies, the figures they produce should be taken as an indication and not a firm guide to the savings available.

LED World's comparison, for example, claims that over 10 years, a 100-watt-equivalent LED bulb costing $36 (now on the high side) will cost about $74.09 to run compared to $493.20 for an ordinary incandescent bulb and $145.23 for a fluorescent energy-saving bulb. That includes the cost of buying and changing bulbs, which should be zero for the LED option, and around half the cost of running fluorescent bulbs.

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The comparison on the site for a 57-watt halogen bulb and its LED equivalent is $59.95 to run the LED bulb versus $468.44 for the halogen.

Those savings would be multiplied by the number of bulbs a house has, Crewther says, though again, it must be stressed that outcomes will vary and some of the assumptions behind the figures may turn out to be wrong.

Dutch manufacturer Philips, a big maker of LED bulbs, has a cost-saving calculator on its New Zealand website designed to show savings per year for households, though it excludes the cost of purchase.

It helpfully equates the savings to the number of takeaway coffees that the householder could buy with the extra money not spent on power.

However, the Philips savings projections appear more modest. It estimates power savings of $69 a year (or 14 coffees) for a three-bedroom house running 10 bulbs for an average of 2.7 hours a day.

Over 10 years that would equate to savings of $690, which would still be a good return on investment for the roughly $200 to $300 cost of buying the 10 LED bulbs to replace the current incandescent bulbs. The savings would be lower when LEDs are compared with the energy-saving fluorescent bulbs.

The Philips calculator also helpfully promotes the green credentials of LED bulbs, claiming that if every New Zealand household (assuming 1.652 million households) replaced three ordinary incandescent bulbs with LED bulbs, 168.555 kilowatt hours of electricity would be saved.

That, the calculator claims, would have the climate change equivalent effect of 956,549 hectares of Amazonian rainforest.

- Sunday Star Times

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