Raleigh to abandon incandescents, leapfrog CFLs, and go all LED?

According to the Department of Energy, just about 22% of US electrical use goes to lighting. And, satellite images showing so much of America lit up like an overloaded Christmas tree are just one indicator that much of this lighting is wasted.But, while much of the light itself is wasted, the way lighting is done is wasteful. Compact Flourescent Lightbulbs (CFLs) are a poster child for energy efficiency and Global Warming mitigation efforts, as they cut electrical requirements for lighting by about 73%. Wow…But, the next step, Light-Emitting Diode (LED) lights that use just 5 percent of the electricity of an incandescent bulb in many normal light uses.

Truly WOW!!!

Applied to 25% of America’s lighting, the US “could save $115 billion in utility costs, cumulatively, by 2025. That would alleviate the need to build 133 new coal-burning power stations [and] In turn, carbon emissions in the atmosphere would go down by 258 million metric tons.”


Incandescent Light Bulbs, the principal light for America’s homes, date back to Thomas Edison over 130 years ago and, while improved, are not significantly more efficent in the use of energy over that time.

Thus, the fluorescent lighting that has so dominated America’s schools, office buildings, and other public facilities over recent decades. For equivalent light levels, fluorescents use roughly 1/4th the energy. And, now, we’re moving toward Compact Fluorescent Lightbulbs (CFLs).

Now, CFLs cost more to buy, but they cost far less to own. They use 27% of the electricity and reduce waste heat by easily 70%. The electricity savings mean that they’re paid for in a couple months and they last much longer (roughly 8 times) than incandescents, multiplying the savings multiple times over.

Walmart is undertaking a major effort to sell CFLs (as discussed Walmart … lighting a revolution for energy efficiency use?.) And, some in the California legislature are calling for banning incandescents in favor of CFLs. (See Incandescent Light Bulbs: To Ban or Not to Ban, That is NOW the Question).

While CFLs are great, LEDs are even more impressive. They use 20% of the electricity of CFLs and have close to no waste heat. They make great Christmas lights, as discussed in Christmas Lights: Scrooge or Savior?. But, while I’ve installed some LED lights in ceiling fixtures, they COST FAR MORE TO BUY and while they COST LESS TO OWN, those cost savings come over years … potentially many years. They make a much harder ‘buy’ decision for most Americans.

But, we should hope that government thinks through issues in longer terms and more holistically.

Energize America bumpersticker

Thinking through the process, Raleigh, NC, wants to go all LED. They have done the initial COST TO BUY versus COST TO OWN calculus and realized that the taxpayer will be far better off if a little more is spent upfront to save big time over the longer term. And, by the way, we all save through reduced pollution levels.

In any event, what is Raleigh doing?

In December, Raleigh–in conjunction with LED manufacturer Cree–replaced high-pressure sodium lights in a downtown parking garage with LED lights. Although the LED lamps cost substantially more than regular sodium lamps, they require less electricity and need to be replaced far less often.

Early projections indicate that the expense of retrofitting the garage’s lighting system will get recovered in cost savings in two to three years, said Mayor Charles Meeker.

“We are saving over 40 percent of the energy we would otherwise use,” said Meeker, who’s currently on his third two-year term. “And the quality is better.

Wow, great … note, however, that the article got it wrong … LED lamps don’t “cost substantially more”, not exactly, they COST MORE TO BUY, but COST LESS TO OWN. And, since the savings comes in 2-3 years, the fact that the lights will last decades means that they will pay for themselves many, many times over.

(Note, the savings for homeowners isn’t the same … in part because a major part of the savings for a business/government is the personnel savings from not having to pay for replacing lights as frequently.)

Next, Raleigh will kick off a pilot program with LED streetlights and will also seek funds to convert the city’s other parking garages. If all seven municipal parking lots in the city were retrofitted, it could save the city $100,000 a year in energy consumption and decreased maintenance, he said. The lights in stadiums, gyms, schools, parks and other public venues could be next.

If the city is paying 5 cents per kilowatt hour (quite possible) and assuming that half the savings are in energy, we are talking about one million KwH in reduced elecricity requirements. Since this is coal-electicity country, we are talking about 3 million fewer pounds of carbon emissions … hmmm … or, should I type, WOW!!!!

Remember, lighting accounts for 22% of America’s electrical consumption … and coal-electicity is a major contributor to US (and global) GHG emissions. According to UC Santa Barbara’s Steven DenBaars, again:

if 25 percent of the lightbulbs in the United States were converted to LEDs putting out 150 lumens per watt (higher than the current commercial standard), the country as a whole could save $115 billion in utility costs, cumulatively, by 2025. That would alleviate the need to build 133 new coal-burning power stations … In turn, carbon emissions in the atmosphere would go down by 258 million metric tons.

Raleigh is not alone.

Denver, Colorado has installed 48,000 LEDs, replacing incandescents, “in traffic and pedestrian signals [that] has saved city $800,000 per year in energy, labor and material cost, while reducing annual emissions of carbon dioxide by 2,937 tons on an annual basis.”

In 2001, “Portland replaced nearly all its traffic signal lights (over 13,000) with LED lamps, which use less energy and last longer than incandescent lamps. The project was financed using an innovative lease-option that allowed Portland to implement with no up-front capital outlay. By 2001 LEDs were inexpensive enough for widespread use. Coupled with short-term utility rebates, these dropping prices meant that total costs were offset significantly; the project showed net positive cash flow in its first year.”

Is it time for other towns to join Raleigh, Denver, and Portland? Is it time to abandon incandescents, forget the CFLs, and go LED?

Energy Smart


2 responses to “Raleigh to abandon incandescents, leapfrog CFLs, and go all LED?

  1. I’m a big fan of LED also and I own stock in CREE.

    However, there are two important things to realize here.

    1. CREE is headquartered near Raleigh so the city has a home town interest in going LED.

    2. Its theoretically possible to make an incandescent lamp that is much more efficient than the present generation. Certainly real world problems might prevent such super efficient incandescents from being practical. However, banning incandescents just because present technology is low is a blunt instrument that ought to be thought through clearly before being implemented.

  2. As I am a representive in the lighting field. we are also starting to see a big push over to CFL’s over the standard incandsent lamps. This push has really taken hold over the past year and is only going to grow. The price of a starndared CFL is just a few dollars difference ove the older incandsent light bulbs. Although, just as any new product, and with more people switching over to to them the price will only drop.

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