In the beginning, there was darkness.
Then came fire.
It wasn’t until the 19th century that artificial light was first generated. The big leap came in the 1880s, when Thomas Edison lit homes with the incandescent bulb. Since then, for the next 130 years, incandescents ruled the nights, the roads, and especially the Christmas tree.
But now, the incandescent light bulb, one of the most venerable inventions of its era but deemed too inefficient for our own, will be phased off the U.S. market beginning in 2012 under the new energy law just approved by Congress. In Europe alsom the stage has been set for the imminent death of the incandescent light bulb. And the rest of the World is also following the same. Already many stores across the world stopped stocking the good old bulbs already.
The days of the traditional incandescent bulb look numbered because these electricity-sapping glass orbs have fallen out of favour with environmentally-conscious governments and consumers.
Moving to more efficient lighting is one of the lowest-cost ways to reduce electricity use and greenhouse gases. In fact, it actually will save households money because of lower utility bills. Ninety percent of the energy that an incandescent light bulb burns is wasted as heat.
And waiting in the wings is a new breed of hi-tech light based on the humble LED (light-emitting diode), the small lights found in everything from TV remote controls to bike lights. Not only do they promise to solve the bulb’s environmental woes, their backers say they will also respond intelligently to your surroundings and even influence the way we behave.
Efficient LED technology looks set to flick the switch on traditional incandescent lightbulbs forever, say researchers.
Already, the efficiency and long life of LEDs is making them a popular – if costly – option in places where changing bulbs is inconvenient or expensive, such as in motorway lights, traffic signals, airport runways or on large buildings and bridges. For example, the Louvre museum in Paris is currently replacing 4,500 bulbs with LED equivalents, a change that is expected to result in a 73% reduction in energy consumption. Plans are also in place to replace the 25-year-old lighting system that illuminates Tower Bridge in London with LED lighting in time for the 2012 Olympic Games.
Of course, the death warrant for the incandescent bulb has been signed before. Compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) – or energy efficient bulbs, as they are more commonly known – were supposed to spell the end of the light bulb in the 1970s. But despite rising to prominence in the 90s and constantly improving, they have failed to deliver on their promise. In part this is down to them costing more than regular bulbs, taking an age to warm up and often producing low quality light. And that is without even mentioning the environmental concerns over bulbs that contain mercury.
LEDs, it is claimed, will help overcome these problems. These tiny lights were invented by GE in the early 1960s and were initially only available in red, a property that defined the look of early pocket calculators and digital watches. Over the years, however, more colours have appeared.
People still use vacuum tubes for some applications, and similarly incandescent bulbs may never go away completely. But it is not a question of if, but of when LED lighting will be the norm throughout the world.
We are only just at the start of the LED lighting revolution, and you may never look up at the ceiling in the same way again.
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