A future so bright, I don't need to change lightbulbs

Put away those clunky fluorescent bulbs. LEDs for home use are finally here. Just one catch: Price

Published September 16, 2009 10:19PM (EDT)

I know I'm not the only person who would just as soon skip right past the compact fluorescent interregnum and move straight into the promised land of LED lighting. Yes, my CFLs last much longer than incandescents and use far less power, and I'm not nearly as put off by their unique glow as are other other critics. But LEDs use even less power and last even longer. So let's get on with it, already! I want my solid-state, semiconductor, mercury-free LEDs!

Could it be? Alok Jha, a science and environment reporter at The Guardian, has tested some new LED lightbulbs from Philips, and is waxing seriously enthusiastic. He has "seen the light."

I was skeptical that they'd be any better than the several I had tried already but, well, something has definitely changed in this technology. The 3W Econic spotlight is a direct replacement for the ubiquitous 35W halogen bulb and claims to have the same light output. When I tried it out, I found that Philips wasn't exaggerating. This is brighter than any other LED I've come across. Putting two in our small shower room, after a while I forgot that the bulbs were not halogens.

The new bulbs -- some of which can be screwed directly into incandescent sockets -- promise 80 to 90 percent electricity savings over comparable incandescents and are reputed to last 15-25 years. There's just one catch: they cost around forty dollars a pop (if you can find 'em -- they don't appear to be for sale in the U.S. yet and are out-of-stock at Amazon UK.) That's a serious up-front commitment for a bulb that is only equivalent to a 30 or 40 watt incandescent.

I'm not quite ready to take the plunge. But like Jha, I'm fully confident that the price will continue to come down and the technology will continue to improve. When my former colleague Farhad Manjoo wrote about LEDS for Salon five years ago, no one could tell him exactly when white, natural-light LEDS would be available for household use. Now they are here, raising the very real possibility that in just a few years, no one will be telling "How many [fill-in-the-blank]s does it take to change a lightbulb?" jokes... because none of us will be changing lightbulbs, period.

By Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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