Friday, December 16, 2005

Trim trees with new LEDs

Energy Buzz by Linda Cawley

Linda Cawley

Linda Cawley is an Information Specialist in the Idaho Department of Water Resources


If you've ever set up your Christmas tree or holiday display only to discover that some of the lights don't work, you're not alone. They all worked last year, but now at least one string doesn't light.

This year when you head to your local hardware store to purchase holiday lights, consider buying at least one string of LEDs (light-emitting diodes). Why?

Unlike incandescent light, which is filtered through colored glass to create specific colors, solid state lighting is produced in an array of colors, which makes it ideal for the multi-colored strands that decorate trees, mantelpieces and household eaves during the holiday season.

Because only one color of light is produced by the LED, there's little to no extra energy heating up the bulb. Traditional bulbs are known to get hot and incite fears of fire when hung on indoor trees, while LEDs barely even get warm. From twinkle lights to globe lights, icicle lights to beaded strands, LEDs are beginning to compete with incandescent bulbs in most applications.

For much the same reason, LEDs last much longer than incandescent bulbs. As a result, they can be sealed into durable plastic, which protects them from the moisture damage and breakage that hamper incandescent lights.

This year the state of Idaho is saving energy by using new LED Christmas lights on its official state Christmas tree on the steps of the statehouse. The tree, a 40-foot Blue Spruce donated by a Boise couple, is adorned by 10,000 new energy-saving LED lights that were purchased from an Idaho company.

Purchase of the new lights was arranged by the Idaho Energy Division in an effort to encourage energy conservation throughout the state. The LEDs require only 1/100th of the energy compared to incandescent lights, and thus will cost the state just 1/100th of what it normally would cost to illuminate the tree throughout the season.

In addition to being more cost-efficient, the LEDs will also last longer. They have a bulb-life of 200,000 hours, which means it will be 20 years before the state has to purchase new lights.

A report commissioned by the U.S. Department of Energy estimated that in 2002, holiday lighting accounted for 2.2 billion kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity use, according to the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance (NEEA).

Because LEDs boast energy-efficiency advantages of 80 percent to 90 percent over traditional incandescent holiday lights, the report estimates a complete market shift to LEDs could reduce electricity demand by 2 billion kWh each year. The potential energy savings from LED holiday lighting are significant enough to make consumers, communities and utilities begin to take notice.

The biggest barrier to widespread adoption of LEDs has been cost, says NEEA. Prices dropped significantly in 2004 and 2005, but LEDs still hover at about $30 for a 100-light strand, compared to $4 to $10 for incandescent lights.

But if you consider your holiday electric bill, and the fact that a $10 strand of lights may only last a year or two, buying the more expensive LED strand could be well worth the money.

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