Yesterday’s Nobel prize in physics was awarded for “the invention of efficient blue light-emitting diodes which has enabled bright and energy-saving white light sources.” Many people know the benefits of switching from traditional incandescent lightbulbs to energy-saving bulbs (CFLs); LEDs are an even better technology, although struggling to gain public awareness.
LEDs are much better than CFLs. The slow warm-up time of CFLs meant some people were reluctant to switch over from traditional incandescent bulbs; this is not a problem with LEDs. LEDs hit full brightness on switch-on. LEDs emit less heat than CFLs, and are even more energy-efficient. LEDs also last much longer than CFLs. While CFLs last longer (8,000 hours) than incandescent bulbs (1,000) hours, LEDs again trump the pack at 30,000 hours+.
LEDs are more environmentally-friendly than CFLs, but LEDs can lead to big savings too. Switching to LEDs could save the nation 10% of its electricity bill, while the technology itself is constantly improving. LED bulbs are now available for pretty much any household light fitting. LEDs come in warm white (a similar colour light to traditional bulbs), or cool white (a sharper and brighter white).
Meanwhile, political debate in the UK is centred on how spending cuts, especially benefits cuts, can help reduce the deficit. The UK government can currently borrow for 30 years (around the life of LED bulbs) at a cost of 3%/year. Research by the Energy Savings Trust on LEDs in public housing suggests a pay-back period of around nine years (p.24) – good enough to justify investment, but a period which could be reduced further with technological improvements and scale efficiencies. Investing in LEDs for public infrastructure would be one way to cut the UK’s long-term deficit. Although borrowing will go up today, since the annual cost savings exceed the interest rate, the public purse would be significantly better-off in thirty years’ time.
Hopefully this well-deserved Nobel prize will help raise more awareness among households, firms and governments about the environmental and economic benefits of investing in LEDs.