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Room lighting – a necessity for any building used by humans – takes up a significant share of the energy budgets of homes and commercial buildings. Lighting accounts for 10% of all electricity usage in American homes, the fourth largest share of electricity end-use after air conditioning (17%), space heating (15%) and water heating (14%) (Eia.gov, 2016). Meanwhile, commercial buildings in the US use 17% of all the electricity they consume for lighting, more than any other end-use (Eia.gov, 2012).
Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs)
Light emitting diodes (LEDs) are a form of solid-state lighting (SSL) that work by moving electrons through a solid semiconductor material, usually aluminum-gallium-arsenide (AlGaAs). Due to their low energy consumption, small size and ability to switch on and off almost immediately, LEDs have been used for indicators and displays since the 1960s. Advances in LED technology have led to their increasing use in a diverse number of applications such as medical, aviation, automotive, and plant growing light. Most recently, LEDs are being developed to produce light bulbs for home and commercial room lighting.
Replacing only five traditional incandescent bulbs – which work by heating a tungsten filament so that it gives off visible light – with LED bulbs can save American consumers up to $75 a year in reduced energy costs (Energy.gov, 2012). This saving comes primarily from the increased efficiency of SSL compared to incandescent lighting, which wastes 95% of the energy it consumes in producing useless heat. While the saving is partially offset by the higher cost of LEDs compared to traditional incandescent bulbs, this offset is counteracted by the increased longevity of LEDs and, for commercial buildings, by government incentives and corporate social responsibility (CSR) benefits to market share from being seen by customers as an environmentally conscientious organization.
However, when homes and companies are considering options for reducing energy use, multiple other factors should be taken into account. Considering the replacement can be very costly due to the higher price of LEDs (although this is falling year on year), these other options can provide better or more immediate energy savings.
Reducing Energy Use
The first notable factor is energy usage. Simply turning lights off when not in use can have a dramatic effect on total energy consumption, and for consumers who have not yet made this behavior change, this will have a noticeable impact on total energy use. The same applies to other appliances, such as air conditioners, heaters, and refrigerators. Installing a smart meter is a good way of supporting this behavior change by providing accurate data on energy usage, as well as potentially automating the process using the Internet of Things (IoT) enabled appliances.
More behavior changes which can reduce energy usage include filling appliances like dishwashers and laundry machines with their maximum loads so they are used less often, air drying rather than tumble drying clothes, driving less and driving more energy-efficient vehicles, and purchasing food and other items which consume less energy to manufacture and distribute.
Other building system upgrades – including low-tech solutions – can also yield positive results in home and commercial buildings’ energy usage. These include properly insulating and sealing the building from heat leakage to reduce the need for space heating and air conditioning, installing low-flow plumbing systems and tankless water supplies, and enhancing air conditioning with ceiling fans.
The cheapest way of saving energy is by making behavior changes, and there are also numerous low-tech, low-cost improvements that can be made to buildings to improve their energy efficiency. Taken together with improvements like replacing traditional bulbs with LEDs, these options will all add up to maximize buildings’ energy efficiency – saving money as well as reducing environmental impact. As each building and requirement is different, no one solution should be regarded as the best or – especially – the only way to save energy.
However, due to the sizeable proportion of energy usage that lighting represents both for homes and commercial buildings, replacing traditional bulbs with LEDs can make a significant impact on energy usage and would be a good step towards maximum energy efficiency.
Sources and Further Reading