The light bulb moment

Citing energy efficiency and durability, industry has put LED lights on a pedestal. But is it really time to bid adieu to CFL and the humble tubelight?

By Sakshi Chadha Dasgupta, Avikal Somvanshi
Published: Monday 15 April 2013

The light bulb moment

cfl“Lighting big common areas in apartment complexes is draining us dry, but the offer from Philips to switch from compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and tubelights (linear fluorescent tubes) to light-emitting diode (LED) lights seems good,” says Amit Jain, director general of Federation of Apartment Owners Association in Gurgaon. The electronics company is offering its highly efficient range of LEDs at 30 per cent down payment and EMIs spread over the next two years, says Jain. “The market is abuzz that LED lights perform better than CFLs,” he adds.

LED lights have been touted as the next big thing in artificial lighting market. They have the potential to surpass conventional lighting equipment in terms of energy efficiency and lifespan, says the industry. LED lights might be energy efficient but they are not good for the pocket. They are 10 and 20 times dearer than CFLs and tubelights, respectively. It is a luxury product for niche residential and commercial projects, says Digambar Singh, general manager (central design team) at Emaar-MGF, a leading real estate developer in the country. LED lights consume less power while an incandescent bulb saps power by kilos. He adds, “Even though LED lights require high initial investments, they pay off well in the long run.” The industry assures that within few years as technology matures and dem and and competition increases the cost of LED will be comparable to CFL.

LED: a leapfrog?
In the eighties, the industry made a technological advancement by introducing CFLs. They were 300 per cent more energy efficient than incandescent bulbs; the figure has improved to 400 per cent now. The efficiency graph is not the same for LED lights, introduced a few years ago. They are just five per cent more energy efficient than CFLs, according to the 2012 report by the US department of energy. But this report also predicts that by 2015 LED technology could become 300 per cent more efficient than CFL.

good livingWhy then is the market filled with claims that LEDs are three times better than CFLs? Considering that the claims are based on their lifetime the buzz is not completely untrue. It is said that LEDs have a lifespan of 25,000 hours compared to CFLs’ 8,000 hours. But LEDs have not been used in the real world for 25,000 hours, so the numbers are mere speculations. Low-end LED products, especially those made in China, are bound to flood the market, but they will surely not last 25,000 hours, says Deepak Chaugule, interior designer in Pune. CFLs, meanwhile, are eight times longer lasting than incandescent bulbs. Therefore the improvement with LED lights is not so drastic.

LED fixtures might be promoted as the way ahead, but they come with problems. For instance, an LED bulb is difficult to replace as it is available in panels. LEDs demand more controlled conditions and the lifetime of fixtures depends upon the source of energy supply. “Even a nominal voltage fluctuation can damage LEDs, whereas ordinary lights have more tolerance,” says Singh. Another problem with LED lights is the amount of heat they produce. Lobby says LED lights produce less heat compared to tubelights.

That is not the case. Although LED chips, which work on DC current, generate negligible amount of heat, each light fixture has a transformer which converts the regular 120 volt AC current to 12 volt or lesser DC current. This conversion produces considerable amount of heat which is dissipated using heat sinks, adding equal if not more heat to the room as a tubelight.

graphPollution quotient
Though the LED lobby often flags the absence of mercury in LED lights, researchers at the University of California have found presence of heavy metals in them. A 2010-11 study published in the Environmental Science and Technology states LEDs contain lead, arsenic and a dozen other dangerous substances. The study adds low intensity red LED bulbs are the worst offenders, while white LED bulbs, which contain the least amount of lead, have high levels of nickel. Like CFLs, disposal problems also plague LEDS. “We still have time to find a solution before LED fixtures need disposal,” says Chaugule. “Their compact size and sharp focus make them ideal for application in concealed ceiling lights and showcases. But light from LEDs does not diffuse enough to achieve general lighting requirement,” points out Chaugule, who is hopeful that this problem will be solved soon. “Presently, nothing compares to tubelights when it comes to general lighting.”

The humble tubelight might be at the bottom of the lighting technology hierarchy but it beats both CFLs and LEDs at most levels. Not only is it cheaper but also almost twice as efficient as CFL and LED fixtures. With a proven lifespan of 20,000 to 30,000 hours, tubelight is the best lighting option at our disposal today, says a 2008-09 study by the US Department of Energy. Switching from incandescent to CFL, LED lights or tubelights is a good idea from the perspective of saving energy. But market dynamics has turned this into a battle of LED against CFL and tubelight.

LEDs have great potential but they need more time to mature and develop. Till then hold on to the seasoned tubelights.


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