The LED Lighting Cost Savings ‘Myth’ Addressed

You have heard the story by now – LED lighting is the ‘next new thing’ … just like you were supposed to change to (mercury containing) compact fluorescents a few years ago, now you should be switching over to LED lighting as pricing has dropped a bit.

Right? Wrong! Well … it depends, really.

Why not? Well, let’s look at some of the reasons you SHOULD change to LED lighting: instant-on, bright and clear lighting, small size, up to 25 year life, and high lumen efficiency per-watt. But it turns out that all of the great promotional stuff about cost savings was based on one simple assumption:

That you are switching from an all-incandescent setup.

If that is the case, then by all means switch! LED lighting is several times more efficient than incandescent, generates very little heat, and produces a purer light that gives a much better ‘perceived brightness’. Some people find it ‘cold’, but the real problem is this:

The cost-benefit analysis doesn’t work for anyone already using fluorescent lights.

The folks at SmartPlanet attack this in a two-part article. In the first they looked at how the marketing is missing the point, and in the second they discuss how the savings are being traded away for much higher usage.

“What if all that (efficiency gain) gets gobbled up as we decide there are other uses of lighting that we can really take advantage of. That’s a really big dilemma. I don’t think the industry is hugely aware of that as of yet.”

When we moved into our house, we replaced every incandescent bulb. The contractor had used compact fluorescent (CFL) in all the main areas, but incandescents everywhere else to save money. He must have used ultra-cheap CFL bulbs, because all of them were dead and replaced within 3 years, while every other bulb we bought is still working. We looked at going to LED based on their higher electrical efficiency, but frankly the savings just weren’t there at that point.

And that is what many folks are finding – especially in office towers and other places that have been using fluorescent lights for years. The cost ti switch to LED is exorbitant, and the potential savings from better efficiency and extended lifetime doesn’t cover it – and there are reports that the lifetime estimates are not working out in reality, causing some vendors to cut their advertised lifetimes from 25 years to 15! That makes the cost-benefit numbers even worse.

We are seeing more and more use in so-called ‘vanity’ projects such as the bridge at the top of the post, the Empire State Building, and other very visible places.

But even for some home applications there is a growing hunger for LED lights – and we are right in the middle of one now: Christmas lights! A couple of years ago there were a few houses around with musically sequenced musical light shows … but now they are EVERYWHERE. In fact, my cousin in South Carolina has been like a little kid (a 50+ year-old little kid) setting up and programming his lights … and even has a trailer showing it off! Check it out, and let us know what you think about LED lighting fact & fiction.

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2 replies

  1. I can’t stand CFLs – I can sense the flicker and it gives me headaches to read by it. Even at work I always tried to have a normal, incandescent lamp on my desk to “cut” the flicker. I like LEDs, but they certainly don’t save much money – yet. I do think I like them better for Christmas lights than the older, colored bulbs!


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