The Department of Energy Reveals the Light Bulb of the Future

Incandescent bulbs may be inefficient, but they give off a more pleasant light than most CFL bulbs, and LED lights--which cast a nicer glow--are still pricey. Philips may have the solution. The company just won the Department of Energy's first L Prize competition to develop a low-cost, energy efficient, high-performance replacement for the incandescent bulb. Philips took the top prize ($10 million) for its 60-watt equivalent LED bulb, which will be in stores next year.

The bulb was submitted in 2009 and underwent 18 months of lab and field-testing at the DOE, including exposure to extreme humidity, temperatures, vibration, and voltage changes. Philips' entry uses less than 10 watts for the same light output as a 60 watt incandescent--an energy savings of 83%.

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The DOE claims that if everyone in the U.S. converted their 60 watt incandescent lamps to the Philips bulb, we would save 35 terawatt-hours of electricity in one year, or enough to power the lights of almost 18 million households.

The bulb still won't be cost-competitive with CFLs when it is released--it will cost just under $18, compared to $3 for some CFL bulbs (though it will still pay itself off eventually through electricity savings). But Philips will get plenty of promotional help from the DOE; it was the only manufacturer to even attempt to meet the L Prize requirements. And now that it has been declared a winner, the DOE and a network of 31 utilities and energy-efficiency organizations will go to work trying to lower the cost of the bulb with everything from national retailer partnerships to product incentives paid directly to consumers. This will, according to the DOE, "drive sales volumes up and prices down far more quickly than would otherwise be possible."

And once LEDs do reach cost-per-lumen parity with CFLs--probably around 2015--Philips will have a head start in the sector.

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