Everybody seems to be jumping on the LED bandwagon. The city of Ann Arbor has just announced that they will be replacing all of the street lights in the city with LED technology from Cree, Inc. The city claims that that can recoup costs on the project in a mere 4 years. (Not bad considering the $630,000 budget) Is LED finally becoming a real option? What is really driving the shift in this direction?
"How many Ann Arbor city workers does it take to screw in a light bulb?" quips the AP article
, stealing from an age old joke that might be finally fading into the mists of antiquity. The number of the variations this theme are countless, but jokes a side, it seems this simple question is what is driving the push to LED.
As soon as LEDs showed up on the scene and their amazingly low power usage as compared to incandescent light bulbs was realized, people have mused about the day when they would take over as the technology of choice for lighting. Two of the main barriers to this happening have been the brightness of the LEDs produced, and as with any other wonder solution of the future, the cost.
The brightness, of course, was just a matter of time. Cree's XBrite Technology
is one such solution in this area. Granted you still need a number of LEDs in any given light. Part of this is because of the fact that LEDs have a much more directional beam than other light sources. If you want this, such as in a flashlight, that's great. If you are trying to replace a light bulb in a fixture that is exploiting its omni-directional nature then you need to place a number of LEDs around the outside of something the shape of a normal bulb. Of course if you think 'outside the box' you can run with this. Some of the LED street light designs out there are just plain sexy looking.
Either way though, as you can imagine, this gets spendy fast. In a market where the cost of your average light bulb is next to nothing, a $150+ LED replacement can be a hard sell.
So with all this, what is finally making this attractive to cities like Ann Arbor? By their estimates they plan on saving $100k annual on power, which is nothing to sniff at, but there is one other factor hinted to in the article that makes this more attractive on a large scale: LEDs last a really long time. As in up to 20 times longer than incandescent and 5 times longer than compact florescent. Just for a moment, ponder the labor saved over 20 lightbulb changes on a single street light. Now multiply that across the estimated 1,400 street lights across Ann Arbor. Even before swagging man hours and salaries, you can see the numbers, and the dollars adding up quickly.
Cree is no stranger to this argument. They used it before with parking ramps in Raleigh
with success. It's that math that is finally putting LED lighting at the tipping point, at least from an ROI stand point. Once that is the case, then it's simply a matter of an entity having a little extra cash, or a want for a little green PR buzz.
The bright side of all this (ha ha) is that with the demand for LEDs going up (or at least the dedicated allocation for a while) one would hope to see the cost going down across the board. This is largely going to depend on the purchase of some spendy equipment to automate assembling these lamps. It's my hope that this is the case. At home, I finally convinced my wife to switch over to compact florescent. (Yes, Al Gore was able to accomplish
in a few hours what took me years of trying) Right now it's more the smug bragging rights that I'm powering all 9 my kitchen floods with less energy than 2 of the previous bulbs. At this rate, I may be close to breaking even on the CF investment by the time an somewhat affordable LED option presents itself on the home front.
Until then, it'll be fun to watch and see who else jumps on the LED bandwagon. I'll place my bids on building lighting. If there is anything more annoying than changing a light bulb with a lift on a street light, it's scaling the side of a 50 story building. And I thought getting at the porch light was a pain in the butt.
I wonder if years down the road my grand kids will be giving me puzzled looks if I try a few light bulb jokes on them?