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 (hcn.org).
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 www.newworldwindpower.com.