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LED bulbs use up to 80% less energy than traditional incandescent bulbs, 73% less than halogen incandescent bulbs and 20% less than compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), and they last twenty-five times longer than traditional incandescents, over eight times longer than halogens and two and a half times longer than CFLs (Energy.gov, 2012). However, many consumers are still not realizing the potential of LED lighting.
Consumer Adoption of LEDs
Despite these advantages – and despite the fact that governments around the world are phasing out the manufacture and sale of traditional incandescents – the latest LED adoption report from the US Department of Energy (DOE) found that only 12.6% of common lighting installations used LED bulbs in 2016 (Energy.gov, 2016). While this was a fourfold increase from 3% in 2014, the DOE calculated that the $4.7 billion in energy bill savings made from LED adoption in 2016 could have been almost ten times higher ($44 billion) had all applications been upgraded to LED technology that year.
Every credible forecaster predicts LEDs’ share of the general market to grow rapidly in the coming years, driven largely by the global phase-out of traditional incandescent bulbs and increasing environmental concerns. However, for these growth predictions to be realized, the LED industry must continue to drive the technology forward and address the concerns below, and governments and other interested bodies must continue to make a compelling case for consumers to adopt the technology.
Consumer Concerns with LEDs: Cost
The primary driver of consumer behavior is, of course, cost. In this regard, LEDs have historically performed poorly compared to traditional incandescent bulbs and other, less efficient, energy-saving bulbs such as halogen incandescents and CFLs. The first LED bulbs to hit the consumer market cost in excess of $30.00 each, over sixty times as much as traditional incandescents. While some of this would be offset over years of use by energy efficiency and LEDs’ superior bulb longevity, for many the initial outlay was simply unaffordable.
This has dropped dramatically in recent years. LED bulbs cost on average $8.00 each now, and some can be purchased for less than $2.00. With improvements to the manufacturing process and other technological advances such as using gallium-nitrate as the semiconductor material on the horizon, this will continue to decrease in the near future.
Consumer Concerns with LEDs: Light Quality
Many consumers still prefer the warm light frequency produced by incandescent bulbs over the perceived tendency of LEDs to emit a cold or stark light frequency. The warmth of incandescent bulbs is due to their use of heat to produce light, meaning they emit light in the same frequency as natural sources such as the sun. This has caused some consumers in the US to stockpile traditional incandescent bulbs in response to the incoming government ban on their sale (Dong and Klaiber, 2019).
This issue is counteracted by the use of rare-earth phosphors such as SiAlON ceramic doped with europium(II) sulfide (EuS), although these are more costly to produce. Again, improvements in manufacturing processes will reduce the cost of LED production, enabling LED bulbs to be sold for less on the consumer market.
Consumer Concerns with LEDs: History with Other Energy-Saving Bulbs
Some consumers are put off upgrading to LEDs by the history of other energy-saving bulb implementation, particularly CFLs. Many consumers opposed using CFLs due to their unusual corkscrew design, slow time to switch on or off, poor light quality and (albeit minimal) use of the toxic material, mercury.
This is counteracted by increased public education on how LEDs work, increased market penetration of LEDs which would lead to a better understanding of their features, and good marketing of LEDs which makes it clear that they are different to CFLs.
Consumer Concerns with LEDs: Resistance to Government Bans
Finally, there are some consumers who will resist adopting energy-efficient lighting because of the government bans on them. This contrarian position has led some consumers to refer to the bans as a form of “light bulb socialism” (SPIEGEL ONLINE, 2009).
Fortunately, this attitude is changing over time, and consumers are increasingly recognizing LEDs as a better alternative to traditional incandescent bulbs. This change in attitudes and behaviors can be attributed not only to advances in LED technology – particularly with regard to the cost of manufacturing good quality LEDs – but also to increase public education, information and environmental awareness argued for in the same year as the “light bulb socialism” attitude prevailed (Di Maria, Ferreira, and Lazarova, 2010).
Sources and Further Reading
- Di Maria, C., Ferreira, S. and Lazarova, E. (2010). SHEDDING LIGHT ON THE LIGHT BULB PUZZLE: THE ROLE OF ATTITUDES AND PERCEPTIONS IN THE ADOPTION OF ENERGY EFFICIENT LIGHT BULBS. Scottish Journal of Political Economy, 57(1), pp.48–67.
- Dong, X. and Klaiber, H.A. (2019). Consumer stockpiling in response to the U.S. EISA “light bulb ban.” Energy Economics, 81, pp.566–576.
- Energy.gov. (2012). How Energy-Efficient Light Bulbs Compare with Traditional Incandescents. [online] Available at: https://www.energy.gov/energysaver/save-electricity-and-fuel/lighting-choices-save-you-money/how-energy-efficient-light.
- Energy.gov. (2016). LED Adoption Report. [online] Available at: https://www.energy.gov/eere/ssl/led-adoption-report.
- SPIEGEL ONLINE (2009). Getting Around the EU Ban: Germans Hoarding Traditional Light Bulbs. [online] SPIEGEL ONLINE. Available at: https://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/getting-around-the-eu-ban-germans-hoarding-traditional-light-bulbs-a-638494.html.