Tips for a bright - and efficient - Christmas

  • Russ Doty


Last year, I loaded up the Christmas stockings of relatives and friends with 60-watt Philips LEDs -- light-emitting diode -- light bulbs, and this holiday I'll do it again. Why give a present few people even know they want? Because LEDs are the gift that keeps on giving, saving money every month on electric bills.

Here's an example: If you burn a 60-watt incandescent bulb for four hours a day and electricity costs 11 cents/kilowatt-hour, switching to an equivalent LED will save $8.83 a year. True, the LED might cost almost $25, but it will pay for itself in decreased power costs in just 2.8 years, according to a review of energy costs across the West.

If that same bulb burns 12 hours a day, your LED will pay for itself in a year, or even less with a rebate. Depending on energy costs and how much you use a bulb, you'll save $1.65 to $35 each year off electric bills if you use the more efficient LED. And if you don't make the switch to LEDs, you will forfeit as much as $35 a year to any utility charging 15 cents/kWh.

LED replacement bulbs for conventional, non-fluorescent fixtures now use only one-fifth of the energy required by incandescent bulbs. For many applications, payback is within the five-to-six-year warranty period. From then on for 10 to 18 more years, the life of an LED, it's an 80 percent net savings.

The price of light-emitting diodes is dropping fast. Last year, a 12.5-watt Philips (60-watt replacement) bulb cost $40. Now, it's $24.97, less for smaller wattage replacements. Because of their long life, LEDs are ideal for high-use areas or hard-to-reach bulbs. LED technology also works great in cold weather or for motion-sensitive applications. If garage door openers, ceiling fans or other vibrating apparatus destroy your bulbs, try LEDs.

What's more, LEDs turn on instantly and are dimmable. The manufacturer's dimmer compatibility charts indicate whether they will work with your dimmer. Take advantage of the 30-to-90 day return policies if they don't. LEDs also have no mercury and are fully recyclable.

By switching to LEDs to save energy, you are helping to avoid the cost of building new power plants. Lighting currently accounts for 30 percent of residential electricity usage; making it 80 percent more efficient ends the need for additional generation that drives our electric bills up.

If your store doesn't sell the light color you want, you can order it online. Many prefer a soft white, 2700 K (Kelvin). If you want a whiter light, try bulbs in a higher Kelvin range. If you need Christmas decorations or light output different from the 60-watt equivalent, LEDs are available for that, too.

Sometimes -- when you want to look closely at your face, for example -- color-rendering is important. Philips just won the Department of Energy's first $10 million L-prize for developing a reliable 60-watt replacement with an energy-efficient 9.7-watt LED. In order to do so, Philips had to produce a LED that ranked 90 or above on a color-rendering index; the company surpassed that with a rank of 93.  Famous for the invention of Blu-ray and DVD, Philips has 25 manufacturing facilities in this country and is spending the L-prize money to expand its U.S. plants so that its L-Prize bulb will be available by April 2012. The government is also testing GE and Science Lighting bulbs to see if they qualify for L-prize funding.

Several utilities already provide a ready market for bulbs that qualify as L-prize recipients or that are energy-star rated. Xcel Energy in Colorado, for instance, gives a $10 at-the-cash-register rebate for every Philips 60 watt LED, making the payback period 1.7 years for bulbs used only four hours a day.

Xcel gives rebates for energy-efficient products from many manufacturers at many stores, including Lowe's, King Soopers and ACE Hardware. Check online for rebates where Xcel operates. In New Mexico, for example, you have to apply for the rebate rather than receive it at the cash register.

Other utilities either have rebate programs that you need to apply for or have not yet included LEDs in their conservation-incentive programs. Utilities not yet offering such rebates could use your encouragement to lighten up the energy-efficient way. Then, when you're stuffing stockings at Christmas, you won't have to ask, "What would Santa do?" You'll know.

The authors are contributors to Writers on the Range, a service of High Country News (

Russ Doty is CEO for New World WindPower in Billings, Mont., Holly Wilde is a writer in Steamboat Springs, Colo. You can calculate LED savings and payback periods at

Note: the opinions expressed in this column are those of the writer and do not necessarily reflect those of High Country News, its board or staff. If you'd like to share an opinion piece of your own, please write Betsy Marston at

Ian Fusland
Ian Fusland Subscriber
Dec 15, 2011 04:23 AM
Russ, Your friends and family must be over the moon opening your presents! As a specialist in the field of lighting I feel I have to make a stand. Some of your comments are clearly swayed in favour of LED. But here are some facts. The average lamp is on 3 hours not 4. the electricity consumption of lighting in a home is not 30%. Nowhere near which is why people that do change over to energy saving lamps never see a drop in their energy bills of more than 5-10%. And that is if they manage the lighting. Most CFLi's are then left on due to warm up times! Switching to LED does not stop new power plants being built. An LED uses far more raw materials to produce. Materials that need excavating, manufacturing in high energy production (Aluminum for starters!) and then there is the recycling issue. Not one Manufacturer has produced a document stating how much of an LED lamp can be recycled. Over here in Blighty the main recycler has no data on the percentage of an LED lamp or tube that can be reclaimed. An LED tube has 300 components. One in aluminum the rest....... Probably land fill! There maybe a 10 buck LED lamp out there. But it won't last 30000 hours (nobody bench tests LED's as technology moves fast and you cannot accelarate the life of LED chips to get an accurate life span. At best these life times are just guesses!)and it won't give you the same illumination as a 360 degree GLS lamp. Chances are it won't be dimmable either. Finally LED technology is moving ahead as fast as the IT industry in the 80's and 90's. So the question we need to ask all consumers and businesses. Why buy LED now that will be obsolete in 3 months time? Food for thought and one that needs addressing globally before all our land is filled with inferior short life LED products!
 Russ Doty
Russ Doty
Dec 15, 2011 08:42 PM
Ian: The L-prize folks "bench tested" the bulb, or lamp, that Philips submitted to the contest. It went through 18 months (13,140 hours)of testing for durability and performance, including temperature extremes, humidity and vibration. It is not a "guess" to determine from that what future performance will be. It is statistically appropriate to extrapolate from the very small amount of lumen depreciation from those tests and from what we know about how heat is dissipated from the LED chip to reliably predict the life of LEDs. In the case of LED street lights (which were not a focus of this piece) an accepted protocol has been published for such testing.
     The reason to buy now depends on what you would be forfeiting to your local utility by waiting. Due to space limitations, the Table allowing folks to make that determination was not included in the final draft of this piece. However, you may find it at (The link at the end of the story does not work because it is not complete.)
     We are not addressing CFLs being left on because of warm up times. LEDs come to full on within a fraction of a second--eliminating the "left-on" problem you decry with CFLs. And LEDs do dim--so do some CFLs now. That is why large chain stores and some cities dim them in the middle of the night when no one is on certain streets or in their parking lots.
     I agree that LEDs are not going to "end" power plant construction. The earlier draft said, "So making lighting 80% more efficient stifles the need for additional generation that drives our electric bills up." I don't know why the editor changed the word "stifles" to "ends." I didn't catch the change in the final edit.
     We didn't say you should buy every LED product. We selected top of the line. In doing so we may have missed some good products or retail outlets that space and lack of familiarity with lower profile parts of the market prevented us from considering.
    Bottom line. If your use will pay for the bulb within the 5 to 6 year warranty period, having a bulb that recycles (and they do) is better than filling up landfills with the many incandescents which will burn out during the life of one LED.
Dec 16, 2011 03:29 AM
Hi Russ, I'm sorry that is all very good but there is no way Philips are keeping the same chips after an 18 month bench test! LED chips are changing monthly and no Manufacturer, apart from the Chinese and that's only a maybe, are installing 18 month old chips into new products. That's LED an extremely grey area!
Elia Bassin
Elia Bassin
Dec 31, 2011 09:15 AM
Ian, you didn't cite a single statement, many of which I have never heard of. It'd be nice if you could show us some of those facts. I bought most of my LED for $6 a piece with a 15000 hr rating, that's just about the same ratio as stated and everytime I look they are cheaper. I first are more than a year old, so far so good, I'll let you know to 10-30yrs how it goes. And I never heard of any other lighting source having amazing recycling opportunities, that would be nice for you to share with us too.