David Zax

A View from David Zax

A Light Bulb that Breathes

The perfect light bulb. But at $50?

  • May 8, 2012

Maybe you’re one of those people who thinks it’s hard to get excited about a light bulb. Then you’re also one of those people who hasn’t heard about General Electric’s new 100-watt equivalent LED bulb, just introduced at the Light Fair conference in Las Vegas.

CNET and the Cleveland Plain Dealer have the specs. (GE has an LED lab in Cleveland.) GE’s calling it the Energy Smart LED bulb, and though it gives off the same amount of light as a traditional 100-watt bulb, GE’s bulb only consumes 27 watts. The bulb gives off 1,600 lumens, and will last for 23 years at three hours per day. For the specs junkie: the bulb’s “color temperature” is 3000 Kelvin. For the layperson: that’s white light.

The greatest innovation embedded in the new GE light bulb appears to be something called “synthetic jet cooling technology,” from a company called Nuventix. LED lamps produce a lot of heat, which can shorten the bulbs’ lives. But a diaphragm embedded in the GE bulb vibrates to create a current of cool air. That’s pretty high-tech for a light bulb, and Nuventix reportedly collaborated with GE for over a year to miniaturize the tech. (More details on that technology, which resembles the vibrating surface of a speaker, can be found here.) As John Funk of the Plain Dealer points out, here’s something we sure haven’t seen in a bulb before: breathing.

You can’t get the Energy Smart LED bulb just yet. It’s expected to come out in early 2013, and there’s no definitive word on price (a $39-$49 figure has been circulating). Other high-end LED’s can run as steep as $60 (to wit, the Philips L Prize LED Bulb; there’s an instant rebate of $10, though). Even though the bulbs are pricey, they inevitably amount to lifetime saving in energy costs, given the longevity and efficiency of the bulbs. Businesses have wised up on savings. But for the average consumer, overcoming sticker shock is likely to remain a major obstacle for widespread adoption of this technology. We have been trained to think of bulbs as light, cheap, semi-disposable products. But as a Home Depot employee put it recently: “It’s the last bulb you’ll ever have to buy.”

It may take some getting used to, but LED’s are inevitably the future–not least because legislation has actually mandated the development of more efficient bulbs and the phasing out of ones that are less so. Philips, among others, debuted similar LED bulbs at the conference. Incandescent bulbs are beginning their slow fade to black, as another iconic technology makes way for the new. 

If Thomas Edison is watching somewhere, thanks for your bright idea–but it’s about to burn out.

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