Look Up, and Rejoice (Shine Bright Like an LED)

, Senior energy analyst | December 20, 2012, 12:06 pm EDT
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This year, much about the holidays is the same as always. But maybe not the lighting. And that may be cause for a little rejoicing.

My wife’s office holiday party last weekend was in the same location it’s been in for the last nine years. Many of the same faces among the office staff, the same balladeer crooning Christmas favorites and spinning pop songs on the virtual turntable, the same tasty buffet with the chocolate-on-chocolate cake to top it off.

Diamonds in the ceiling… (Photo: J. Rogers, in need of a better phone camera for just these occasions)

The more things stay the same, the more they change

But other things have changed, along with some new staff, a fancy new ultra-slim speaker for our crooner friend, and what’s at the top of the music charts. In between my dance floor boogieing to the sounds of Maroon 5 and my eerily dead-on impersonation of PSY (Gangnam Style!), I chanced to look up.

On high, nestled in the same recessed lighting cans, were harbingers of the quiet transformation underway in lighting. Where in past years there had been nothing but incandescent bulbs, now there were gentle, bright, unassuming LED lights. Our party was thriving, our eyes were rejoicing, just as always, but the owner of the function hall was saving 80 percent on lighting from those fixtures.

Next to the dance floor, too, the Christmas tree that previously would have hosted incandescents was garlanded with strings of LEDs. Down one floor, the halls were bedecked with lights on motion sensors, to make sure that they would be off when revelers and staff were elsewhere occupied.

…and on the trees… (Photo: J. Rogers)

Those changes are visible elsewhere, too. In a chapel I visited on Saturday, where the staid chandeliers and sconces held not incandescents (or candles), but compact fluorescent lights (CFLs). On trees in the Boston Common, where LEDs shine forth in place of more energy-intensive choices. In LED-lit store displays.

Why the switch

Even beyond the environmental pluses of using less electricity, the economics of the energy savings are a fine rationale for a switch to LEDs and CFLs and the adoption of other energy-saving technologies. In the case of the party venue, the wait staff told me the owner “just got tired of paying the electric bills.”

For a commercial establishment like that, or a public one like the chapel, the longevity of LEDs and CFLs—and the potential to keep the staff focused on happy patrons, not light bulb changes—is another reason to love them.

…and on the Boston Common. (Sure, they were on during the day. But it was a gloomy day, in need of extra cheer.) (Photo: J. Rogers)

And the market is continuing to move forward. Starting January 1, 2013, the next phase of the U.S. efficiency standards for light bulbs kicks in. Soon 75-watt bulbs will join their 100-watt brethren in having to meet efficiency standards. Manufacturers have responded.

Look up

So this holiday season, if you take a moment to look around, and up — in function rooms, elevators, department stores, or homes — you just might find glimpses of the peace of the season, cause for a little rejoicing, a bit of extra holiday cheer. A quiet revolution in lighting.

Diamonds in the sky. Or the ceiling.


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  • Baird Edmonds

    In general of course the switch to LEDs makes lots of sense. One interesting counterpoint though is that during the heating season the waste heat from interior incandescent bulbs does offset some of the heating load. Of course since electricity is generated in significant part by coal that’s not really a great thing.

    • Thanks for your comment, Baird. You’re right that “waste” heat could be useful at some times of year in some climates. But you’re also right that conventional electric resistance heating is in general not desirable from an efficiency/pollution standpoint. And even if it’s the only option in a given house or apartment, heating the place with light bulbs isn’t a great way to go.

      The federal government’s Energy Star program has an FAQ on just this subject:

      “Although incandescent light bulbs uses 90% of the energy consumed to produce heat, it is not efficiently producing this heat. First, the filament is in essence a resistance heater, which is far less efficient in terms of total energy consumption than an oil or gas furnace or electric heat pump. Furthermore, light bulbs are not designed to be used for heating and they therefore lack the design to effectively distribute the heat within your living space.” (http://energystar.supportportal.com/ics/support/kbanswer.asp?deptID=23018&task=knowledge&questionID=25171)

      And Think Progress’s Joe Romm has his own good response: thinkprogress.org/climate/2008/03/26/202477/please-dont-use-incandescent-bulbs-for-heating/

      So keep swapping them out, and enjoy your winter, and many seasons to come. Happy new year.