Reported by Jessica Rae Patton
As anyone with a dimmer switch will attest, compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs), though far more energy efficient than their incandescent forbears, leave a lot to be desired. The lighting quality, especially of the early incarnations, is dim and chilly; they contain trace amounts of mercury, posing health-related breakage and disposal concerns. According to the Energy Department (DOE), 60-watt incandescent bulbs represent 50% of all the lighting in the U.S., with 425 million sold each year. The DOE says that if all those lamps were light-emitting diode (LED) equivalents, enough power would be saved to cut carbon emissions by 5.6 million metric tons annually.
To that end, the DOE established the L Prize contest to inspire the invention of an LED equivalent to the 60-watt bulb. As reported last week in The New York Times, Dutch electronics company Philips has submitted the contest's first entry. The company says that "the bulbs meet all the criteria of the contest, which specifies a bulb that reproduces the same amount and color of light made by a 60-watt incandescent bulb, but uses only 10 watts of power. The bulb must also last more than 25,000 hours—about 25 times longer than a standard light bulb." And, notably, at least 75% of the bulb must be made or assembled in the U.S. The contest winner would be granted $10 million in government prize money.
LEDs that are currently available are expensive—up to $100 each—and many don't perform as well as they claim to, says James R. Brodrick, manager of the Solid State Lighting Program of the DOE. "We test LED bulbs today that claim on the package that they're equivalent to 40 watts, but are really like 20-watt bulbs." The price of the new certified LEDs, which are slated to go to market in about a year if testing goes as planned, has yet to be set. But to make them as affordable as possible to consumers, the DOE has enlisted 27 utility companies around the country as L Prize partners, with the hope that subsidies, along with mass production, will help defray the cost, says the Times.