LED is the future, but I don’t think it’s here yet

San Jose Mercury News columnist (and fellow Mizzou alumnus) Troy Wolverton has been testing LED bulbs. His conclusion: The quality of light is good, prices will continue to fall and efficiency will continue to improve, so they’re the future, but the future isn’t here yet.

I’m always trying to wring the last bit of value out of my utility bill dollars, so I’ve been watching this closely. And I agree.

I’ve been looking forward to LED bulbs that would be more efficient than the CFLs I’m using now. But what I’m noticing is that even as LED prices drop, CFL efficiency improves. Only slightly, but any time I look at an LED bulb, I can find a CFL that either matches its efficiency, or comes within a watt or so. The LED bulb will last longer, but my local utility company subsidizes the cost of CFLs so they cost the same as incandescent bulbs. The CFL bulbs I installed in August 2008, when I started writing the dates on them, are still going. That makes it hard to justify paying $40 for a 75w-equivalent LED bulb right now.

I’ll put 60w equivalent LED bulbs in my kids’ rooms because they’re dimmable, but that’s about all I use them for.

The DoE wants 10-watt LED bulbs that give the brightness equivalent to a 60w incandescent. That hasn’t happened yet. Right now they’re at 12 or 13 watts, and so are CFLs.

Once they meet that goal, I’ll start switching.

But for now, there are only two reasons I use LED bulbs. LED bulbs work better on my sons’ dimmers than dimmable CFLs do, so I put one LED and two CFLs in their light fixtures. It’s easier than replacing their dimmer switches with something newer, and the cost is about the same. And if one or the other of the two difficult-to-reach bulbs in my house were to burn out any time soon, I’d immediately buy an LED to replace it. Neither of those lights gets used more than 30 minutes a day. Given that an LED bulb is supposed to last 17 years if used 4 hours a day, it could last 136 years if used 30 minutes a day. That’s longer than I’ll live. Given that I’d rather do my taxes from a dentist’s chair than climb a ladder, the idea of only having to change those two bulbs once more in my lifetime is appealing, and if that means paying the early adopter tax, I’m willing.

I paid the early adopter tax to put CFLs in them in the first place though, hoping they’d last 10 years or more. So far, so good.

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