The Light Bulb as a Home Appliance

I’m sure by now you’ve read some of the political talk circulating the web as a result of a recent article by The Washington Post about the Philips LED bulb that won the L Prize and $10 million.  The contest was meant to spur lighting innovation and make LEDs more affordable, but readers noted the bulb’s unrebated MSRP of $50 and basically flipped out.

Even Energy Secretary Chu commented on the price: “Nobody expects to pay $50 for a light bulb and quite candidly, if you’re filling your house with light bulbs like that, they should be part of your will,” according to Andrew Restuccia of The Hill.

With the media this LED bulb has generated — especially considering the fact that Philips won the contest in August 2011 — I can’t figure out why there’s not been a more grounded approach to the discussion in the last week or so.  So let’s just cut through the clutter and address some of the main talking points.

What are the specs for the L Prize bulb? 

It’s a screw-type replacement for the 60-watt incandescent and uses 10 watts of energy.  The omnidirectional bulb outputs 900 lumens, has a life of 30,000 hours, has a color of 2700 K (similar to an incandescent), and a CRI of 92.  It’s dimmable, contains no mercury, and turns on instantly.

What is the price of the L Prize bulb? 

It’s reportedly going to sell for the MSRP of $50, not counting rebates, if available.  As of August 2011, 31 utility providers and energy efficiency program partners had signed up to promote and develop markets for the new L Prize bulb.  Philips expects to achieve the $22 target L Prize price through utility partner rebates of up to $30 off in-store purchases.

Doesn’t Philips already have a bulb like this on the market?

You can buy a different Philips 60-watt replacement at places like Home Depot.  I purchased four AmbientLED bulbs less than a year ago for $40 per bulb and they’re awesome.  This same bulb is selling retail for about $25, or $20 right now on Amazon (Wow! You mean it dropped $15-$20 in price in about a year?  Yes.)  It uses 12.5 watts, outputs 800 lumens, has a life of 25,000 hours, has a color of 2700, and has a CRI of 80.  So it’s close in performance to the L Prize bulb but not has high performing in key areas.

What’s the cost of purchasing and using the L Prize bulb?

Based on the cost of the bulb, plus the cost of energy to run the bulb on an assumption of $0.11 kWH: the L Prize bulb costs $82 (prior to any rebates), a halogen bulb costs $186, and an incandescent costs $213, according to a recent Philips press release.  These numbers closely align with the same math performed by Think Progress in response to the WaPo feature.  By the way, WaPo now concludes that the incandescent will cost $145 more over the life of the L Prize bulb.

But that’s still a high initial price?  What to do?

The reality is, many Americans live check to check.  Replacing a bulb every 6-8 months is a lot easier than investing in something that won’t need replacing for like 20 something years.  Which is why it’s probably time we as a nation find a way to treat home lighting as an appliance worth saving for and purchasing, as opposed to an expendable that’s tossed in the shopping cart and trashed when dead.  If it’s cheaper to buy the L Prize bulb when factoring in lifetime energy costs, which it is, then it’s pragmatic to make that happen.

What about Made in America?

To win the L Prize, a majority of the final product assembly and integration must be carried out within the United States.  Philips made the white LEDs and electronic driver in the United States.  During mass production, all final assembly and testing of the L Prize bulb will be completed in the United States.

The real question:  Would you buy one for $50?  How about $20?

[+] More about the L Prize LED light bulb from Philips.

Credit: Philips Lighting North America.


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  • Philip Premysler

    There are greater troubling issues beyond the price.

    The problem is that the L-Prize contest which was supposed to foster U.S. green technology competitiveness was RIGGED.

    As a foreign based (headquartered) corporation Philips was excluded
    from eligibility according to the law that established the L-Prize, in
    particular public law 110-140 section 655(f)(1). Under U.S. federal law
    the term “a primary place of business” used in the statute refers to
    the single headquarters location, which in the case of Philips is
    Amsterdam,Netherlands. Philips, of course, would have known that they
    were ineligible, so they put out PR flak alleging that the bulb was the
    result of a global effort. The truth is otherwise, as evidenced in
    Philips patent application on the bulb, is otherwise. See http://www.google.com/patents/about/ELECTRIC_LAMP.html?id=adH3AQAAEBAJ
    The bulb was developed in the Netherlands. Dept. of Energy energy
    bureaucrats who have been hobnobbing with Philips executives for years
    or DoE politicals who were looking for a photo-op apparently decided not
    to enforce the law.

    The L-Prize entry also failed to meet key technical requirements of
    the contest. The Philips entry does not meet the stated uniformity
    requirement of the contest. This is admitted in a document obtained
    under the Freedom of Information Act, see http://TINYURL.COM/43ECMQM.
    The curt justification asserted in that document based on comparing
    uniformity to a standard incandescent lamp is factually (quantifiably)
    false. The putative L-Prize winner is actually less uniform.

    The Philips entry also failed to produce the required amount of
    light. In one test 62 out of 100 bulbs failed. (See above linked
    document) Whether the commercialized version will consistently produce
    the required amount of light is an open question, HOWEVER the stated
    procedure for the contest was that if the entry failed a required test
    the entry would fail. What happened is that Philips wanted to submit
    prematurely to claim the prize (see http://reason.com/archives/2012/03/09/feds-pay-10-million-for-50-light-bulb)
    and the Department of Energy did not want to follow the rules and fail
    them, rather they embarked on RIGGING the contest. They kept the
    failure secret and proceeded with other tests.

    The result is that a bulb developed by Dutch inventors, built with
    some (possibly most) of its parts made in Shenzhen China (see http://www.dailytech.com/Philips+Wins+10M+USD+Govt+LPrize+for+Worlds+Most+Efficient+Light+Bulb/article24082.htm
    ) has been given a great initial advantage which may allow it to
    dominate U.S. competitors, even though the contest is RIGGED.

    We may wind up with Dutch citizens enjoying social welfare benefits
    such as vacations for the unemployed, supported by Chinese workers
    working 16 hours a day and American consumers squeezed by $50 light bulb
    prices whether they pay that amount at the check out counter or
    indirectly pay for subsidies through their electric bill.
     

    • dasher

      The EETimes:
      The L Prize eligibility requirements (pdf) stated: “The entity [submitting the entry] shall be incorporated in and maintain a primary place of business in the United States.” Philips Lighting North America certainly qualifies: It’s incorporated in the US and has 7,000 employees in the United States working in 25 factories spread across the US. It is the largest lighting manufacturer in the US.

  • Ruth

    There are plent of good quality, LED light bulbs available for for a fraction of the cost.
    http://bit.ly/oYWjCt

  • Ruth

    There are plent of good quality, LED light bulbs available for for a fraction of the cost.

  • Edbyrski

    So let me see if I’ve got this straight. Philips expects consumers like myself to go out and spend 50.00 for an led light that uses approximately 10 watts or there abouts with an output of a 60 watt incandescent. So why would I buy this, when I could purchase a 2/3 dollar 13 watt fluorescent bulb instead. Oh, wait! This led bulb lasts longer. Hmm. About the equivalent of what..2 fluorescents? For this they win a prize??
    When I see nonsense like this, I’m reminded once again how innovative and unique an American company like Apple is. So many companies just don’t seem to get it. Philips is no exception.

    • http://www.jetsongreen.com Preston

      Longer life, better light, dimmable, instant light, no mercury, etc.  

      • Edbyrski

        Longer life? Over two fluorescents? Maybe. But not by much.
        Better light. Personal judgement at best. And I would argue the opposite.
        Dimmable. I will give you that one.
        Instant light. Seriously? Have our lives really deterioted to the point where an extra half second is unacceptable for a bulb to turn on.
        No mercury. Agreed. Proper disposal is required. Tough one for a civilization that is still coming to grips with separating the trash.
        There is no etc.
        Sorry no sale.

        • Brandon O’Connor

          Its a fact that a higher CRI rating, which this bulb has, will produce ‘better’ light. Cant argue that.

    • Johnkollhoff

      I’m just curious where you are buying your fluorescent bulbs… I’ve almost given up on them after trying 3-4 name brands and having them last less than an year on average… I found some Toshiba LED bulbs at Menards ($12) however, and haven’t had a single problem with 1 bulb… I’m not racing out to replace my whole house with $50 bulbs, but I have the LED bulbs where I use lights the most and I have fluorescents where I don’t mind changing bulbs frequently! 

      Honestly if the average person spends 10 years in a house (this seems longer than what I see) they are probably money ahead to just suck it up and replace their high utilization bulbs even at $50/each… Any economists on the board???

    • Brian

      I can understand your frustration here, but just like all new technology the prices are always going to be inflated. If you remember, CFLs at one point when they first came out to the general public were every bit of $50 and were just kind of ok. They didn’t even save that much power because they were still running around 30 watts per bulb. The perks then were lower power consumption and longer life than an incandescent bulb. Is it really that unreasonable for the initial higher tech version of the LED bulbs to be priced a little high too? We all know the price is going to come down just like the CFLs have. Hell, I bought a 4 pack of 100 watt equivalent CFLs from homedepot the other day for $4! You can already buy some LED bulbs that were originally $45 for under $20. Isn’t it obvious that just like everything else LED is going to follow the same path?

      In the case of the LED the perks are: Even more power efficiency than even the better CFLs (I’ve seen some 60 watt equivalents as low as 8 watts with 680 lumen output), even longer life (many new ones are rated at 50,000 hours), no mercury, no annoying warm up time (which on some CFLs are awful, especially in cold environments), not effected by low temps very bad, if at all, higher Color Rendering Index values (meaning it has richer color than CFLs, they dim better, etc….

      Basically, this is new technology that will get better and better, and continue to come down in price especially as other companies begin mass producing.

      Bottom line is, if you don’t like the price then don’t buy it until prices come down. No need to get burnt ass about it. Hell the first 32″ flat panel TV I ever saw was $13,000….now you can buy them for $300 in some places!

      LED bulbs will be the replacement for CFL…they are truly better in every way and getting closer and closer to barely being able to tell the difference between them and regular incandescent bulbs!

    • Brian

      I can understand your frustration here, but just like all new technology the prices are always going to be inflated. If you remember, CFLs at one point when they first came out to the general public were every bit of $50 and were just kind of ok. They didn’t even save that much power because they were still running around 30 watts per bulb. The perks then were lower power consumption and longer life than an incandescent bulb. Is it really that unreasonable for the initial higher tech version of the LED bulbs to be priced a little high too? We all know the price is going to come down just like the CFLs have. Hell, I bought a 4 pack of 100 watt equivalent CFLs from homedepot the other day for $4! You can already buy some LED bulbs that were originally $45 for under $20. Isn’t it obvious that just like everything else LED is going to follow the same path?

      In the case of the LED the perks are: Even more power efficiency than even the better CFLs (I’ve seen some 60 watt equivalents as low as 8 watts with 680 lumen output), even longer life (many new ones are rated at 50,000 hours), no mercury, no annoying warm up time (which on some CFLs are awful, especially in cold environments), not effected by low temps very bad, if at all, higher Color Rendering Index values (meaning it has richer color than CFLs, they dim better, etc….

      Basically, this is new technology that will get better and better, and continue to come down in price especially as other companies begin mass producing.

      Bottom line is, if you don’t like the price then don’t buy it until prices come down. No need to get burnt ass about it. Hell the first 32″ flat panel TV I ever saw was $13,000….now you can buy them for $300 in some places!

      LED bulbs will be the replacement for CFL…they are truly better in every way and getting closer and closer to barely being able to tell the difference between them and regular incandescent bulbs!

    • Brian

      I can understand your frustration here, but just like all new technology the prices are always going to be inflated. If you remember, CFLs at one point when they first came out to the general public were every bit of $50 and were just kind of ok. They didn’t even save that much power because they were still running around 30 watts per bulb. The perks then were lower power consumption and longer life than an incandescent bulb. Is it really that unreasonable for the initial higher tech version of the LED bulbs to be priced a little high too? We all know the price is going to come down just like the CFLs have. Hell, I bought a 4 pack of 100 watt equivalent CFLs from homedepot the other day for $4! You can already buy some LED bulbs that were originally $45 for under $20. Isn’t it obvious that just like everything else LED is going to follow the same path?

      In the case of the LED the perks are: Even more power efficiency than even the better CFLs (I’ve seen some 60 watt equivalents as low as 8 watts with 680 lumen output), even longer life (many new ones are rated at 50,000 hours), no mercury, no annoying warm up time (which on some CFLs are awful, especially in cold environments), not effected by low temps very bad, if at all, higher Color Rendering Index values (meaning it has richer color than CFLs, they dim better, etc….

      Basically, this is new technology that will get better and better, and continue to come down in price especially as other companies begin mass producing.

      Bottom line is, if you don’t like the price then don’t buy it until prices come down. No need to get burnt ass about it. Hell the first 32″ flat panel TV I ever saw was $13,000….now you can buy them for $300 in some places!

      LED bulbs will be the replacement for CFL…they are truly better in every way and getting closer and closer to barely being able to tell the difference between them and regular incandescent bulbs!

  • Brandon O’Connor

    Great post Preston! Its just a matter time. A great option for 6 in cans are these, essentially a rebranded CREE CR6: http://www.homedepot.com/buy/electrical-light-bulbs-led/gu24-10-5-watt-65w-led-down-light-light-bulb-e-190179.html

    Fantastic stats, simple install and great looks. I used them in 90% of my home.

  • David B.

    My plan is to save $2.50/yr for 20 years and then buy my bulb.  Can’t wait

  • Brian Turk

    Isn’t ironic that the same people who complain about the price of a LED bulb are the same ones who will spend hundreds of dollars on a new phone every couple of years and think nothing of the cost.  I’ve replaced a number of lights in my home with LEDs and after 3 years I’m already money ahead.  Best part – if I ever move, the lights come with me.  If people would stop for a moment and views these bulbs as an investment, rather than a consumable, their implementation would be no brainer.  As the cost of electricity increases, my return on investment increases.  Don’t you wish your portfolio was that easy to manage?

  • dasher

    I expect that commercial sites like office building, shopping centers and hotels would be the first buyers, since they will recoop the expense sooner. With rebates and deals with energy companies the cost will be at least half.  And then the prices will come down for the rest of us. Philips is predicting $8 after three years.

  • creed1177

    I work in the LED field and I find this price tag completely
    ridiculous!  This is a perfect example of
    the DOE and Phillips wasting taxpayers money!! 
    It really pisses me off.  First
    off the BOM cost of this product is not that much higher than their EnduraLed
    product which is selling for $24, even with the added red LEDs and driver complexities.  The whole point of the L-Prize was to develop
    an energy efficient version of the incandescent A19 lamp AT a price point that would
    accelerate mass adoption.  If the price
    point stays at or near $50 this will never happen!  I know prices will come down in regards to
    LEDs BUT not as quickly as you would expect, because the technology is
    relatively mature at this point, there will still be advancements but not like
    the last 5 years.   Honestly to give a
    $10M prize to Phillips for this bulb and have them release it at $50 is a slap
    in the face to US taxpayers.  Talk about
    a marketing campaign for Phillips! 

    I have talked to someone in Phillips and he told me that
    they will only sell this bulb in small quantities to meet the requirements of
    the L-Prize.   Total scam and the DOE is
    allowing it!  Just another government agency
    wasting taxpayers money, and I don’t even want to start talking about Phillips!!

    • http://www.horriblenight.com GiffTor

      My uncle works for Microsoft.

  • creed1177

    I work in the LED field and I find this price tag completely
    ridiculous!  This is a perfect example of
    the DOE and Phillips wasting taxpayers money!! 
    It really pisses me off.  First
    off the BOM cost of this product is not that much higher than their EnduraLed
    product which is selling for $24, even with the added red LEDs and driver complexities.  The whole point of the L-Prize was to develop
    an energy efficient version of the incandescent A19 lamp AT a price point that would
    accelerate mass adoption.  If the price
    point stays at or near $50 this will never happen!  I know prices will come down in regards to
    LEDs BUT not as quickly as you would expect, because the technology is
    relatively mature at this point, there will still be advancements but not like
    the last 5 years.   Honestly to give a
    $10M prize to Phillips for this bulb and have them release it at $50 is a slap
    in the face to US taxpayers.  Talk about
    a marketing campaign for Phillips! 

    I have talked to someone in Phillips and he told me that
    they will only sell this bulb in small quantities to meet the requirements of
    the L-Prize.   Total scam and the DOE is
    allowing it!  Just another government agency
    wasting taxpayers money, and I don’t even want to start talking about Phillips!!

  • http://www.horriblenight.com GiffTor

    I bought my first LED bulb about a month ago to replace a track/flood. The upfront cost is a lot higher, but I’m probably never going to have to replace it and it works with dimmers, which is more than I can say for most of the CFL’s I’ve replaced almost everything in my house with. When it shows up in the local stores and I’ve got a light out, I’ll definitely be willing to shell out the cash for a lower electric bill, regardless of +Philip Premysler’s rant.

  • http://www.horriblenight.com GiffTor

    I bought my first LED bulb about a month ago to replace a track/flood. The upfront cost is a lot higher, but I’m probably never going to have to replace it and it works with dimmers, which is more than I can say for most of the CFL’s I’ve replaced almost everything in my house with. When it shows up in the local stores and I’ve got a light out, I’ll definitely be willing to shell out the cash for a lower electric bill, regardless of +Philip Premysler’s rant.

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