Now I don't know about you, but in my experience, ALL fathers have a revolutionary change when we have children. We are the original GREENIES, in the purest sense of the word. It's actually true. When was the last time a Dad walked past a child's room, with their clothes neatly hung up on the floor and the lights still blazing after the impetuous rush out to the PS3, TV or for food. First there is the 'huff and puff' from us Dads as, off goes the light switch! Think about it. We hate wastage when it's us that pays the bills.
Welcome to the Adult Male Green revolution. In our quest for saving the planet - with as little fuss as possible, we turned to bulk purchasing those compact fluorescent 'twirly' bulbs that the marketers promised would save our power bills and our rubbish hills from the all too frequent 'ping' we heard when we turned on our light bulbs. Actually, getting a long life bulb option should have been promoted as a free marriage guidance session as our wonderful ladies tended to get on our case about changing that darn blackened light bulb in the corridor or above the children's homework desk. Now it wasn't the cost of the light bulb that caused the avoidance of 2 months to change it, it was the hassle of buying one every other week as they 'popped' on a seemingly all too regular basis. Add to that, getting the ladder or stool out of the cupboard, moving the furniture around as well as enduring the 'red ear syndrome' from she who must be obeyed. No this new energy efficient bulb would save the day, like some glowing super hero coming to the rescue of our maintenance budgets.
Did you notice something though. The ones we brought on special from that big pallet in the middle of the walkway at our 'Mega Store' of choice, ended up being basically cold blue in colour, making our partners and kids look like they had spent some time in a concentration camp from their sunken features and they never actually gave us the same amount of light as the packaging suggested.
In our house, we ended up buying more floor mounted fittings just to enable me to read the news paper. I also noticed that when I used the most romantic mood setting device, otherwise known as a light dimmer knob, we would end up with more of a disco effect as the fluorescent bulbs flashed and flickered until we realised that the box specifically said they were not compatible with dimmers. I note that wasn't part of the selling pitch from those advertisements.
I also should mention that those less frequent entries in to the rubbish bins they promised didn't eventuate. Even the extra life promised seemed to fail to live up to the years written on the box. No. If I was to change the world, it appeared it would not be through this technology. I have become cynical subsequently of any new inventions for saving my corner of the world from eternal hydro dam power generation threats being built on my back yard.
Imagine my surprise when LED light bulbs began appearing on our new 'Next generation to save the planet' articles. Apparently they were better colour, even more efficient, lasted for over 35,000 hours (or close to 15 years of normal household use) and they were dimmable to boot. Well I, of course, was much the wiser for my previous experiences.
So how does it all look after my research? Actually, things are looking much better than I expected. It seems there is a plethora of cheaper LED light bulbs available that were going down the same track as their compact fluorescent counterparts. They promised much but delivered quite a bit less. The trick for me was to look to the established brands of Philips, Osram, Sylvania, GE and the like. These companies are spending, literally, millions of dollars on research in coming up with solutions, mainly relating to heat management of the LED but also with something called 'Binning'.
Let's look first at the heat management. LED's are generally perceived as almost heat free and to be fair, the LED's we found on our old stereo consoles and on the front of the TV sets are generally very small and not designed to give off useable light. They are purely indicators to let us know that some thing is plugged in or operating and mostly limited to Red or Green in colour. The LED's that are required in a light bulb are a whole new generation and are far more powerful and actually produce quite a bit of heat. So to manage the heat is critical as if that doesn't happen, the LED will very quickly fade and the life will be shortened dramatically. What LED does do, like it's compact fluorescent counterparts, is produce a much better conversion of energy in to light than the incandescant lamps we currently purchase. Less Heat (relatively speaking) for more light. To achieve the ability to maximise the light output as well as the life, a series of heat sinks (or aluminium fins) that dissipate the heat effectively enough around the LED were developed. This will certainly change that appearance of the bulb but it is critical for good function. But up until now the lamps have been consequently low in wattage and in output. However the newer high powered lamps such as the low voltage LED replacements to the dichroic (MR16) lamps actually have a fan built in! This is all part of the research and development required to assure me, the customer, that the details shown on the packaging are accurate. Now I hasten to add that this advice applies to the major brands and not necessarily the cheaper products that are mass produced in some less favourable companies in other parts of the world.
The second issue is 'binning'. I won't go in to the technical aspects but it all applies to the manufacturing process of LED, which is an electronic component, like a diode, resistor or capacitor and not a traditional lighting company product. To that end, lighting manufacturers have to 'sort' or 'bin' the LED's provided by the electronics companies, to ensure that the colour is constant and looks the same in every light bulb you buy. This is a very hard task as the LED's get sorted at the time of manufacture but they have to be resorted once they are put in an enclosed product, such as a light bulb. This is because LED is so sensitive that once the heat is applied, through a confined space such as a sealed bulb, the LED can still change it's performance characteristics.
It is a sensitive electronic component. Once again, to ensure what we buy is going to be effective through its life, the costs have to be considered as a part of what is an amazingly complex pre-manufacture cycle. Not all LED's are created equal as it turns out.
Now for the costs. Well I can assure you that generally speaking, you get what you pay for and the dollars can range from US$10 right up to $80 for a standard replacement lamp. Some countries, such as New Zealand, where I live, have a government subsidised scheme which means that some of the more expensive but quality LED's can be purchased at a much subsidised rate in order to achieve uptake and the payback for the government is reduced requirements for generation relative to community growth. The subsidies generally reduce over time so that the market is not warped too much as one day the subsidy must come off and the if the true cost is too high, customers will simply revert back to their old choices.
New generator capacity comes at a huge cost, so by reducing the loads demanded of generators through energy efficient schemes and subsidies, costs can be delayed and offset through better use of the electricity we are using. All of this varies depending on where you live and what the existing growth and capacity is of the electricity providers.
So in summary, there is no question that LED is a much better lamp source to work with but it will take time for the volume to increase and the research and development costs to be covered before the mass market, non subsidised costs are reduced. In the mean time, as a father and owner of a lighting business I am taking the step of purchasing the latest generation of LED bulbs but I will tread cautiously before buying a house lot. You really do get what you pay for as it turns out.