Incandescent, CFL, & LED bulbs: Pros & Cons

OK.  I’ve just heard of a new federal mandate that would effectively prohibit the sale of the incandescent light bulb, long a staple of many households.  I’m all for finding a way to fulfill my current lighting requirements with less energy consumption but I’d rather take a logical approach to the problem than follow a mandate that does not take such an analysis into consideration.  Setting aside the fact that this represents yet another intrusion of government into the internal affairs of the individual, a pro-con analysis needs to be done.  Let’s start with the pros and cons of the incandescent bulb:

The pros:

They’re cheap and their efficiency increases with higher wattage consumption.

The cons:

These wattage consumptions are more than many of us are comfortable with given the increasing energy costs.

Which brings me to the CFL bulb:

The pros:

They’re much more efficient than incandescents and they’ve come to be nearly as cheap as incandescents.

The cons:

They contain unsafe levels of mercury.  This results in some hidden costs besides the obvious risk to the environment and our health should the mercury contained in these bulbs leak into the environment.  Because of this if you break a CFL bulb you can’t just sweep up the debris and toss it.  You have to call in an environmental cleaning crew (who will be wearing HAZMAT suits) and that will likely cost a good couple of thousand bucks.  The waste management services of most localities also implement special procedures for dealing with CFL bulb waste, procedures that cost money to implement.  This results in a higher local property tax bill for everyone.

Which brings me now to the LED bulb:

The pros:

They’re much more efficient, more efficient than even CFL’s (at least at lower wattage equivalencies such as the 60-watt equivalency).  They also contain no mercury, eliminating that risk to our health and the environment.  They also last much longer than either incandescents or CFL’s.

The cons:

They cost plenty to buy.  The average LED bulb costs roughly $40 – $50 for a 60-watt equivalent LED bulb.  Their efficiency also drops with higher wattage consumption.  For example: LED’s are more efficient than CFL’s at the 60-watt equivalency but at the 100-watt equivalency, from what I read, an LED bulb would have to consume at least 30 watts of power, giving the CFL the advantage in energy efficiency in this higher wattage equivalency (CFL can produce 100-watt equivalent light consuming only 26 watts of power).  Also a 100-watt equiv. LED would be roughly several times the size of a standard bulb and probably cost roughly $100 – $200!  (eek!)  But it would still make the LED much more efficient than incandescent bulbs.

But despite the cons, if you can afford these initial one-time costs for the LED bulbs, the energy cost savings could possibly offset the cost of the bulbs.  The tricky part is actually coming up with the money for these LED bulbs, especially in this tough economy (unless of course Bill Gates is feeling generous enough to replace every light fixture in the US with an LED bulb, but I’m not holding my breath  :-P).

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