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LED: A rising star in energy savings

In 2007, the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) passed the Energy and Independence Act. The passing of this legislation made the future of incandescent light bulbs quite dim.

While this legislation included a wide range of recommendations for the energy industry, one requirement was that new light bulbs use 25 percent less energy. As a result, there was a push between 2012 and 2014 to replace older incandescent light bulbs with newer, more energy-efficient versions.

Traditional incandescent bulbs produce light by heating a wire filament to a temperature that results in the generation of light. Incandescent bulbs were popular because they were inexpensive and available in a wide range of colors. However, much of their energy went into heat production and little toward emitting light.

Incandescent light bulbs have a short lifespan, lasting only about a year on average. Although they are no longer available in U.S. stores, the energy costs associated with the once-popular bulb, along with its stunted lifespan, outweigh the initial savings at the cash register.

Nowadays, the three most common light bulbs include light-emitting diode (LED), halogen incandescent and compact fluorescent light (CFL). According to the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, in the third quarter of 2018, light bulb orders were broken down as follows: LEDs accounted for 65 percent, halogens made up 28 percent and CFLs were 7 percent.

What makes LEDs different? LED light bulbs work when an electrical current pass through a microchip, which illuminates the tiny light sources called LEDs and result in visible light. LED bulbs produce light up to 90 percent more efficiently than traditional incandescent light bulbs. They also include features that keep the bulb cooler to the touch, which avoids potential injuries and fire risks.

LEDs are safer than their competitors. CFLs contain a small amount of mercury, which is dangerous if ingested. This type of bulb should not be thrown in the trash. Halogen bulbs operate at high temperatures, which means they can cause burns to the skin if touched. They can also cause a fire if they contact something flammable.

Moreover, many LEDs are rated with a lifespan of 50,000 hours. If one is used 8 hours a day, it is projected to last 17 years. Residential LEDs, especially those designated with the ENERGY STAR logo, use at least 75 percent less energy and last 25 times longer than incandescent lighting, according to the DOE.

In comparison, halogen light bulbs last about a year and CFL bulbs about 3 years (both based on 8-hour-a-day usage). 

LEDs help the environment while reducing energy costs. According to the DOE, their widespread use is on track to save the equivalent annual electrical output of 44 large electric power plants, with a total savings of more than $30 billion, by the year 2027.

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