Until recently, homes were lit with a single technology—incandescent lamps. This is the bulb that generations of Americans learned by, lived by—and even ate by. But those days are long gone.

Over the past 20 years, electric co-ops have promoted efficient lighting by adding CFLs to the mix. In 2012, about 30 percent of U.S. residential sockets were filled with CFLs, with incandescents making up the remaining 70 percent. Today, LED bulbs and fixtures are increasingly preferred in many residential and commercial applications for their efficiency, quality of light and compatibility with automatic controls.

Changes to federal lighting standards went into effect for incandescent bulbs in 2007, when Congress passed and President George W. Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA), which included provisions to reduce the energy use of everyday light bulbs.

At the same time, through industry efforts and government investment, LEDs dramatically improved in performance and dropped in price, making them appealing options for many applications.

In the first quarter of 2015, traditional incandescents accounted for just nine percent of the market share in household lighting. EISA-compliant halogen incandescent replacements made up more than 44 percent of the market, with CFLs at 40 percent. And although the percentage of LED sales has increased dramatically over the last year, they made up just over 6 percent of the market share in the first quarter of 2015.

LEDs offer features beyond energy efficiency. Some LEDs are part of a system that allows the user to turn off lamps – or even change their color – via a smartphone app. This makes the LED lamp more of a consumer electronic than just a light bulb.

LEDs are essentially computer chips, so they are more difficult to produce than incandescent bulbs. This is one product where cheaper versions often produce a life span and color that is not what the consumer wants. Higher quality LEDs from reputable brands—such as GE, Philips, Cree and Sylvania to name a few—have tested well.

However, some fixtures inside the home do not work well with LEDs. Consumers with older dimmer switches often find that they must purchase newer switches to work with the LEDs. Consumers should pick LED lamps that come with a solid warranty in case there is a problem with quality.

What’s next? While LEDs are still on the cusp of becoming our everyday lighting, there are other technologies in development. Organic Light Emitting Diodes (OLEDs) are similar to LEDs in that they are solid-state devices that produce light when current passes through them. But unlike LEDs, they are made up of multiple, organic semi-conductive layers that produce diffused light. OLEDs are extremely thin and flexible, which has enabled them to be effectively used in displays, like mobile phone screens and TVs. Manufacturers are developing OLED lighting as well—primarily for decorative architectural panels at this point, although some OLED lamps are available today.

It appears that the age of the LED has begun. They are shatter resistant and have a long life. And yes, some even come with their own app.


 

Brian Sloboda is a program manager specializing in energy efficiency for the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association.

Laura Moorefield consults for utilities, state and federal governments, and non-profits on energy efficiency, renewables, and program design. Laura founded Moorefield Research & Consulting, LLC in 2013. She currently resides in Durango, CO and is a member of La Plata Electric Association.

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