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Prize-winning LED 'bulb' to go on sale next month

19 Jan 2012

Philips' high-efficiency LED replacement for 60 W incandescent bulbs to become available from February.

Philips, the sole winner (so far) of the US Department of Energy’s “L Prize” competition to replace 60 W incandescent bulbs with a high-performance LED equivalent, is set to launch the winning products commercially next month.

The lighting giant made the announcement as part of a DOE webinar on progress in solid-state lighting. The DOE set some extremely tough performance targets for the L Prize, but the reward for Philips is the opportunity to partner with a large number of affiliated utility companies that will promote the technology across the US.

60 W incandescents are important because they are the most common household bulb in the US, with nearly a billion of them thought to be in use, according to the DOE. And while it has qualified more than 400 LED lamps under its Energy Star program so far, the vast majority of these are relatively low-brightness and directional.

The L Prize criteria demand a unique combination of overall brightness, electrical efficiency, warm-white light and high color rendering index (CRI) that places the technology meeting those targets at the very top of the range in solid-state lighting.

That, of course, comes at a cost. But at the DOE webinar, Philips Lighting’s Todd Manegold outlined that despite the high cost of the technology, in many common applications it would still offer a very short payback period. In those estimations, the price of the LED bulb is set at $50 – a hundred times that of a conventional incandescent bulb. But with the Philips replacement only consuming 10 W, energy consumption is cut by 83%.

Payback periods
For some commercial applications where bulbs are left on all time, for example downlights in a hotel, that makes for a rapid payback. Manegold cited an example where 55 lamps might be needed in a hotel corridor. That would mean an up-front cost of $2750 for the LED bulbs, versus just $27.50 for the conventional incandescents. But with the corridor lights switched on constantly, those incandescent bulbs would be consuming more than $3200 in electricity costs every year, while the LEDs would use less than $500.

Other replacement scenarios are less compelling, but even replacing compact fluorescents with LEDs in a 24/7 application would yield a payback period of just over two years.

At last month’s United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP 17), Philips called for a rapid worldwide switch to using LED-based lighting as a key way to reduce energy consumption and man-made carbon dioxide emissions.

Currently, lighting accounts for close to one-fifth of all electricity consumption worldwide – with most lamps relying on incandescent and other relatively low efficiency lighting technologies. Philips says that a full switch to the latest energy-efficient LED lighting, combined with smart control and management systems to reduce wastage, could provide energy savings of up to 80% in many applications.

The company estimates that this would equate to approximately €130 billion per year in running costs and 670 million tons of avoided carbon dioxide emissions, equivalent to the output of about 640 medium-sized power plants. However, the up-front costs of such a switch would of course be enormous.

Philips, which is in the middle of a major re-organization aimed at streamlining operations and cutting costs, sees the switch to LED lighting as a fundamental part of its future business. Its US-based Lumileds subsidiary is a key manufacturer of LED chips used in general lighting applications.

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