Say goodbye to fluorescent bulbs

The Associated Press
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Dutch company Philips says LED lamps will soon light up your office

Coen Liedenbaum, a manager at Philips’ research laboratories in Eindhoven, Netherlands, with a prototype of a new tube LED light. Royal Philips NV claims these bulbs will replace the fluorescent tube lamps that are common in many offices around the world.

If you’ve worked in an office, you’re probably familiar with the soft glow of fluorescent tubes drifting from the ceiling.

If Europe’s Philips brand is right, those lamps could soon be history.

Royal Philips NV, the Dutch consumer appliances giant, recently said that it has developed an LED light that will soon be far more efficient than the best fluorescents on the market.

That should make it cheaper and greener, as well.

It’s a combination that will inevitably help the LED dominate the market for illuminating the world’s workplaces, according to the global leader in lighting sales.

In an interview with The Associated Press ahead of the unveiling of the new light, a top executive said the prototype LED is headed to mass production and will hit the market in 2015.

He claimed that in 10 years, LEDs will replace at least half of the world’s fluorescent bulbs, which have been the main source of workplace lighting since shortly after the Second World War.

“This is a major step forward for the lighting world,” said Rene Van Schooten, CEO of Philips’ light sources division. “It will bring an enormous savings in energy.”

Experts outside the Dutch company say they have long expected LEDs to eclipse fluorescents.

If Philips’ predictions are correct, however, the arrival of the LED in office spaces will come faster than expected.

The potential impact in energy and cost savings, as well as pollution reduction, is significant — though toxic materials are used in manufacturing both fluorescents and LEDs.

Lights suck up more than 15 per cent of all energy produced globally, and fluorescent lights currently make up more than half of the total lighting market.

In the United States alone, fluorescents consume about 200 terawatts annually, according to Philips’ estimates.

Cutting that in half would save $12 billion in electricity costs and lessen carbon dioxide emissions by 60 million metric tons per year, the company said.

Dr. Eugenia Ellis, a professor of engineering and architecture at Drexel University, who works with LED installations, said an efficiency improvement at the level Philips forecasts would be impressive.

Cost savings from using LEDs can already be significant: Ellis gave the example of a hospital recently saving $75,000 a year on energy bills by switching.

In recent years, energy-efficient lights made by Philips, Siemens AG, General Electric Co., Cree Inc. and others using LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, have made significant inroads in the home market, replacing many incandescent and halogen bulbs.

But because fluorescent bulbs themselves are highly efficient, LED lights have so far achieved only a small foothold in business and industry.

LEDs are competitive in heavy use settings where their longer lifespans and a minor energy edge pay off.

Philips says its new lamp will change all of that. The technical milestone the company claims to have achieved is the ability to produce 200 lumens of light per watt.

A lumen is the standard measure of the amount of light a lamp casts in a given area.

According to Mark Hand, a technology expert at Philips competitor Acuity Brands Inc., that’s about twice the output per watt of the best fluorescent tubes currently on the market.

He estimated the best LED lamps may get up to 120 lumens per watt.

Cree already advertises an LED lamp it says reaches 200 lumens per watt under some circumstances.

Van Schooten said the Philips lamp is different.

It will be the first on the market that reaches that level of efficiency and functions across a normal range of temperatures and is capable of consistently producing the same amount of warm white colored light as comparable fluorescent tubes.

Essentially, Van Schooten said, “if you walk into the room, you don’t say, ‘what a funny lamp.’”

The U.S. Department of Energy projections published in April 2012 showed the government had expected the industry would only achieve efficiencies of 160 lumens per watt for LED lamps by 2015.

Philips’ Van Schooten said that initially, prices of its LED tubes will still be higher than fluorescent lights.

But taking into account electricity costs, the increased efficiency in 2015 will make them cheaper to own within a year, as opposed to three years at present.

And further manufacturing savings and efficiency improvements to LED lights will come with each generation of technology.

“The case is rather compelling, but of course it takes some time to replace existing infrastructure,” Van Schooten said.

Philips lighting sales in 2012 amounted to €8.4 billion ($11 billion) in a total global market that consulting firm McKinsey puts at €70 billion.

Acuity Brands’ Hand said that Philips’ 10-year view may even be pessimistic.

Although LEDs currently make up only a small percentage of his company’s

$1.9 billion in annual sales, he expects that to change quickly.

“LEDs will take over, definitely within

10 years,” he said. He predicted that LEDs would make up more than 50 per cent of new sales “certainly within five years, maybe within three.”

Ironically, Philips will both lose and gain from the change.

It is not only the largest maker of LEDs, but also of fluorescent tubes.

“Clearly we’ll have to phase that out,” Van Schooten said.

But “we knew this moment was coming for some time.”

Organizations: Philips NV, The Associated Press, Cree Inc. Drexel University Siemens AG General Electric U.S. Department of Energy Acuity Brands

Geographic location: Europe, United States

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Recent comments

  • Emma Harris
    May 06, 2013 - 06:34

    With the advent of energy-efficient lights like LED and CFL, there is no reason for us to keep using fluorescent lights anymore. The switch should be easy from fluorescents to energy-efficient lights. Replacement bulbs like this are widely available in markets. They’re a little expensive but their benefits should outweigh the cost overtime.

  • terry
    April 17, 2013 - 12:25

    It sounds as though electric lighting, which already includes somewhat efficient fluorescent tubes is about one sixth (15%)of one's electric bill.We, based on our experience therefore doubt that newer lighting will be much advantage. For example, we salvaged some 12 well used two tube fluorescent fixtures that were due to scrapped from a school renovation and installed them in our occasionally used basement workshop. Some tubes were broken (perhaps 60%), so we bought new tubes and a couple of spares at a cost of less than $30..Since installing them several years ago we have had to replace only one tube. The electrical lighting consumption is therefore of the order of 750 - 800 watts per hour (well under 10 cents) and they are on less than 50 hours per month. These are the 'old fashioned' ballast equipped lamp fixtures and seem to be capable of performing well into the future at minimal cost; so even if the cost of electricity were to more than double/triple the economics of replacing with 'more modern' fixtures and lamps/bulbs does not exist. Other points of view are most welcome.

  • Ed Power
    April 17, 2013 - 07:43

    And..... cue more Muskrat Love from Mr.Pseudonymous Smith. Unfortunately, his version of the song has none of the quirky charm of the Captain and Tennille recording.The lyrics, however, are much the same, "Muskrat Susie and Muskrat Sam, do the jitterbug out in muskrat land...."

  • John Smith
    April 16, 2013 - 07:39

    LOL...the intelligentsia has spoken...give me a break. Some guy says he may have a better light bulb and these braniacs think there is no need to develop our natural resources? OMG...give me a break. Vale plant alone will consume huge amounts of power, there is talk of another refinery here in the future, expanded mining in Labrador, people are not consuming less power...they are consuming far more power. There was a time when most house in NL had a 60 amp panel, and a wood they have a multiple panels...200-400 watts each, gigantic refridgeerators, freezers hot tubs, pools, jetted tubs...etc. I mean really guys...what you are saying are the ravings of lunatics. Keep pouring billions of dollars into burning oil in Holyrood, a dirty 40 year old plant that is on the verge of collapse. Or build a new state of the are hydro plant, which will provide all the power we will need into the next century, allow a connection to the mainland, provide 300-400 million a year in lost guys...the dam is being built...and it is well thought out, intelligent, and the absolute right direction for us to go...and you have no argument against it that holds water...

  • Calvin
    April 15, 2013 - 14:21

    As someone who designs electrical requirements in commercial and industrial facilities all day, I can say that Phillips is drastically over-estimating the timeframe for the takeover by LED lighting. Any given LED fixture right now is 4 times (or more) more expensive than the same fluorescent fixture. Building owners, from government to small business owners, are nowhere near ready to alot such a large portion of their budget to lighting, especially when spending more money on other systems like heating and air conditioning can save way more money during initial startup. The engineering firm I work for has an excellent relationship with the local Phillips lighting rep, and he would chuckle at this time table produced by Phillips. One of the biggest misconceptions with regards to LED lighting is that the wattage of the new fixtures is so much lower than comparable fluorescent fixtures. The wattage of the LED fixtures actually isn't that much lower. The big bonus with LED fixtures is that maintenance is relatively non-existent because the LED's last so long. Taking that into account, will Phillips, and all other lamp manufacturers for that matter, be quick to replace all fluorescent lamps with LED lamps? Putting in LED lamps will mean little to no future lamp sales once a job has been completed. What happens when sales decrease? Companies still have to please their shareholders, so in order to post similar profits with the LED fixtures, the cost will increase. LED lighting is absolutely the future of lighting, but that future may be further away than Phillips would lead us to believe.

    • Jon
      April 15, 2013 - 20:18

      Well said Calvin!

  • Ed Power
    April 15, 2013 - 07:50

    Just one more reason to question the need for a $10 billion (if we are lucky) dam in the Labrador wilderness. Too bad our government and Nalcor are committed to century-old industrial development and technology in the 21st century. Coming soon from Dunderdale government - a major announcement on industrial subsidies for local buggy whip manufacturers "to help them compete with horseless carriages"......

    • Willi Makit
      April 15, 2013 - 15:03

      Ed, I've been preaching exactly what you're talking about for ages. Apparently the geniuses at NALCOR and the provincial government have a crystal balls that allows them to see 50 years into the future. Now, if they had that miraculous ability 50 years ago they would have foretold the jet airliner, communications satellite, personal computers, cell phones, fiber optics etc. etc. etc. All of those inventions resulted in the collapse of what were tried and traditional ways and costs. ''Investing'' $10+ billion in a hydro project is about as rational as investing in buggy whips in the '50's.. This will not end well for NL.