Only LEDs Can Significantly Cut Electricity Usage

Lighting consumes around 15% of all energy usage in the United States, and nearly a quarter of all electricity usage across all sectors of the United States economy.

Only air-conditioning represents a comparable opportunity for reducing electricity usage across all sectors.

Heating represents the largest usage of energy, per se, but with low-cost natural gas being widely used for heating there is no alternative that can do it more efficiently, especially if advantage is taken of available sunlight.

Programmable thermostats can improve the efficient use of natural gas by a small percentage.

Against these facts are the claims by activists that energy efficiency can be improved 50%.

The claims of activists are broadcast in Wikipedia, which says, “In general, up to 75% of the electricity used in the U.S. could be saved with efficiency measures that cost less than the electricity itself.”

But this is a gross distortion of the facts.

What people may not realize is that proposals made by activists will degrade America’s standards of living.

For example, from Wikipedia, “Installing a clothesline will significantly reduce your energy consumption as your dryer will be used less.”

Organizations, such as the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE), promote setting thermostats higher in the summer, and lower in the winter.

ACEEE also ranked China’s residential segment as being among the most efficient in the world, and ranked the United States near the bottom. See Calling For Government Mandates.

Many other suggestions for improving energy efficiency are grossly uneconomic. For example, replacing windows with more efficient windows costing as much as $30,000 in an average home has been promoted as a way to save energy.

Here’s what DOE’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL) says about triple pane windows it has used in its studies:

“It would take 23 to 55 years to save enough on a utility bill to cover the higher cost of the windows, based on national electricity costs.”

But why are people making exaggerated claims about energy efficiency?

Simply stated, the motivation for making these exaggerated claims is to reduce CO2 emissions, and promote the idea that new power generation facilities aren’t needed. See The Great Divide.

Making uneconomic investments, such as replacing windows, takes money away from sound investments that can have a positive effect on the economy. Wasted money results in less economic growth.

Proposals, such as Demand Response and the selling of NegaWatts, can do very little to save electricity.

In spite of all the bogus claims, there is one technology that can actually reduce the use of electricity … and also save money, with a fair rate of return.

LEDs for lighting use far less electricity than incandescent bulbs, while providing the same amount of light. LEDs also have color rendering that equals incandescent lighting, and can be modified to fit the desired ambiance.

There is no need to lower standards of living when using LEDs.

In fact, LEDs will allow people to do more with decorative lighting and improve safety.

Replica of 1879 Edison bulb used by GE at its 100th anniversary, alongside a modern LED lamp.
Replica of 1879 Edison bulb used by GE at its 100th anniversary, alongside a modern LED lamp.
Pat Hingle played Edison at commemorative dinners around the country.

LEDs improve efficiency.

The EIA estimates that LEDs could reduce the amount of electricity used for lighting by over 40%. This is a reasonable projection, unless the more flexible fixtures invite greater use of lighting for decorative and safety reasons. See The Amazing LED

But even LEDs come at a cost. It costs around $10 for a 60-watt LED lamp as opposed to 60 cents for a comparable 60-watt incandescent bulb. The 100-watt LED lamp costs even more.

If a 100-watt LED cost $18 and a 100-watt incandescent cost 70 cents, and the LED replaces an incandescent bulb that burns 4 hours per day, it would only require about 14 months to recover the higher cost.

A 14-month payback is reasonable, but if the incandescent bulb only burns 15 minutes each day, such as in a closet, the payback would be 19 years, which is an unreasonable payback, and a bad use of financial resources.

Fortunately, the cost of LEDs is coming down rapidly.

LEDs are now available for factory installations where high bays are common and the fixture is 20 or 40 feet above the floor. In these situations, LEDs will replace High Intensity Discharge (HID) fixtures.

LEDs are becoming competitive with fluorescent fixtures that are used in office buildings. While the savings in electricity are less per fixture, the large areas involved in commercial and office buildings will result in large overall savings.

LEDs last for 50,000 hours. Incandescent bulbs last for 2,000 hours. High bay and fluorescent lamps have approximately half the life of an LED.

The extra cost of LEDs in an industrial or commercial setting, can be offset by the high cost of replacing burned-out high bay, office or commercial lighting over the life of longer lasting LEDs.

If LEDs reduce electricity usage for lighting by 40%, as suggested by the EIA, LEDs could reduce lighting’s share of electricity usage from 15% to 10% by 2030, or thereabouts.

While this is impressive, it won’t result in the 75% improvement in efficiency touted by activists in Wikipedia.

No other technology is currently available, or in the pipeline, that can have the same impact as LEDs. And few, if any, other alternatives, such as replacing refrigerators and furnaces, are economically viable.

Claims about making huge improvements in energy efficiency to cut CO2 emissions are bogus, and should be viewed with skepticism.

It is not possible to cut the use of electricity, or energy in general, by 75% without significantly lowering America’s standard of living.

Beware of people who make extravagant claims about saving energy.

LEDs are an exception: They can save money, improve safety and favorably impact the overall economy.

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