Tuesday, May 24, 2011

That $50 LED light bulb? Total non-story. Here's why.

In the past week or so, Twitter, or at least the group of people I follow there, has been abuzz about a story about an LED-based lamp (as I've stated before, those in the lighting industry do not call them "light bulbs") that produces an equivalent output to a 100-watt incandescent.  The 100-watt incandescent lamp, as most people now, has been targeted for extinction by our friends in the federal government because, as with most things, they think they know what is best for you.  So, one would think an LED lamp capable of the same output is a good thing.

The buzz, though, is not about the abilities of such a lamp.  No, the buzz is that such a lamp will cost $50.

To that point I say:  so what?

Now, I'm not going to debate whether Congress should be sticking its nose into what lighting sources we buy (other than to say they shouldn't) because at this writing, it's a done deal.  If a future Congress repeals EISA (or if somehow the court system manages to shift its leanings and overturn it), we can talk about incandescent lamps.  (And yes, I know that some states are skirting EISA by saying that incandescent lamps can be sold if they are produced in that state.)

No, I'm simply going to say that people freaking out about the $50 cost of a 100-watt equivalent LED lamp need only look at history to see that this will not be an issue for very long.

I remember, two or three years ago, seeing the very first LED lamps with a medium screw base (that is, those designed to replace the incandescent lamps we use mostly these days).  It produced a fairly good light, but not a lot of it.  And it, back then, cost $50.  That cost has dropped dramatically since then as LED lamp technology has improved, and as the industry has gotten more efficient, and, yes, as people bought them.  Someone is going to buy a $50 LED lamp and be darn proud of it, I assure you.  (I can also assure you that, owing to finances, I will not be that someone.)

Don't believe me?  Perhaps you don't remember seeing the first flat-panel LCD HDTV models back in, say, 2001 or so.  They certainly didn't have nearly the number of bells and whistles that today's versions do.  (3D in television?  240-Hz technology?  Not even close.)  And some of the largest models sold for over $10,000 back then.  And people bought them.  (And then we were all forced into HDTVs in the same way as we are being forced out of incandescents.  But I digress.)

Perhaps being on the cutting edge of new technologies is a status symbol for some people.  I don't know.  But I do know that there are always buyers for these technologies.  It's a good thing that there are those buyers, too, because they are the ones who drive the costs down, so that a couple or so years later, you and I can buy those same items for a lot less.

Another consideration, of course, is that now that the 100-watt equivalence barrier has been breached, there will be many others rushing their own copycat products to market.  This, too, helps the price to come down, though I would urge caution, as some LED products are not made using quality materials, and it will be obvious once you turn the light on.  The color from these cheaper lamps will not be consistent, and the light produced will not be attractive.  Buyer beware.

But, really, the main point is that for about 99% or so of you, a $50 LED lamp price is nothing to worry about, because you will never pay it.  When these lamps go mainstream, the price will have fallen 80-90%, similarly to the eventually-to-be-obsolete fluorescent spiral lamps that most people hate.  And given that your electricity rate (if your utility is anything like mine) will have gone up quite a bit, saving over half the wattage for every light in the house, not to mention the much longer life LED lamps have, will make this product worth it sometime soon.

(In the meantime, go ahead and stockpile the incandescents while you still can.)