Ethical Shopping - LEDs - Lighting the Future
Energy conservation through lighting technology has steadily advanced as our light bulbs went from incandescent (essentially, the same heat-producing and energy wasting bulbs that Thomas Edison invented over a hundred years ago) to fluorescent (with that very disturbing neon bluish light found in workplaces and box stores) to compact fluorescents. The compacts are very energy efficient, possess a much more pleasing light (especially the full spectrum variety), yet they don't appear to be the end of the evolution in light bulbs.
Displacing compacts as future of lighting in the estimates of many scientists and technology watchers are the LEDs—light emitting diodes. Small in size (a single diode is usually about the diameter of an ear swab stem), in the world of energy efficiency, they are about as efficient as our current physics allows. According to an article on MSNBC.com LED's emanate twice the light of 60-watt bulbs and burn for an amazing 50,000 hours. That is about 5 years of continuous light.
Technologists are predicting that LED lighting will be our standard lighting technology in the near future. The Department of Energy estimates that by year 2025 our energy consumption could be whittled down by 29% through LED technology.
No heat death
The conventional incandescent bulb (which creates light through electrical resistance in a filament wire) wastes 95% of its energy through heat loss. That means that all the world's incandescent lighting systems over the past century—plus have wasted 95% of the energy used to generate the light. That accounts for a huge chunk of our net energy budget.
In the LED technology there is zero heat generated, thus the energy going into creating LED light approaches very high energy to work output ratios—among the highest in science to date. A pair of good alkaline batteries can power a LED flashlight for years.
Further, LED's, unlike normal, fragile bulbs, are very hard to break.
The ethics of cost
LED light appliances are more expensive than compacts or incandescent. The technology for LED has been around for 30 years, but bringing it to market in usable forms and related manufacturing costs, and the fact that they last so long, contribute to a higher price. Further the LEDs are being primarily applied to focused light use—flash lights and reading lights. LEDs don't broadcast light in 360 directions as a normal bulb does. As thin tubes ending in the actual light diode they point in a single direction. Most flashlights use a cluster of diodes to gain more light projection.
Color LEDs have been in use by municipalities for traffic lights for a while, and they report recouping their costs for the more expensive LED system within a year. Similarly, a consumer could buy an LED appliance with a larger upfront cost, but gain it back in saved battery purchases fairly quickly.
There are a number of high quality LED appliances on the market, and it is rapidly growing from a novelty to a cultural must-have. Take a look at the products from the LED science—at the least you will be making a personal dent in our collective energy diet.