Is It Worth Converting To LED Light Bulbs?

Is the Pope Catholic? Do deer shit in the woods? You would think that by now no-one would even bother to ask that question.

But still, search engine queries tell us that there are indeed people who, in spite of their ever increasing electricity bills, don’t quite get it.

The, err, logic usually goes something along one or both of these lines:

“I’m not spending over ten pounds on a light bulb when I can buy a perfectly good one for less than a quid”. True you can (though much hinges on the definition of “perfectly good”).

“The light isn’t the same as regular light bulbs”. True again but not necessarily a bad thing.

Cranking The Math…

Let’s take the first objection which revolves around the perceived cost of switching to LED and consider the status quo, namely a normal 60W bulb that costs one pound and is going to last about 2,000 hours.

By the time it needs to be replaced it will have cost over sixteen times more than it cost to buy. Don’t believe me? Follow along…

We run our light bulb for 6 hours each evening for 1 year and that gives us 6 * 365 which is 2,190 hours.

What we do now is calculate how many kilowatt hours that is, since that is how electricity is charged (these days at roughly 12.5 pence per kWh). The sum is (60 * 2190) / 1000 which is 131.4 kWh – the cost of which is 131.4 * 0.125…

Yes, that £1 light bulb costs £16.43 for the privilege of actually having it switched on and when, after about one year, it blows it will be time to start over and spend another £17.43 for another year’s supply of 60 watts.

Now, I don’t know how many lights you typically run each and every day but I do know how many I run. It’s actually 77 all told. Admittedly not all these are used heavily and some may only be used an hour a day, but I do have a decent sized family house complete with family and a reasonably large garden that I like to enjoy at night.

Back in the day, when the electricity bill used to be more on the periphery of the household budget radar, this little lot burned 14.39 kWh on a daily basis. Which at today’s prices comes to a mere £1.79 per day, or a whopping £653.35 per annum, depending on your point of view. Add in replacement costs at a nominal £1 per bulb per year and this comes to £730.35 annually.

Replacing all 77 bulbs cost £665 which is no small beer to be sure. Quite a few were 20W decor lights which can be replaced with 2W G4 LEDs for little more than a fiver, some were specialist dimmable lights costing up to £15 each, but an awful lot were halogen lamps which averaged out at £10 each.

So what did this not insignificant outlay in LED bulbs buy me? Well, the daily power consumption for these lights is now 1.91 kWh which comes in at 24 pence per day or £87.60 annually, saving £565.75.

So for the first year I was slightly out of pocket to the tune of about £90. But then I won’t have to shell out an additional £77 every year to buy replacement bulbs. By the end of year 2 the math works out at 2 * (653.35 + 77) = £1,460.70 if I play stick in the mud.

Enough With The Math Already…

But enough with the dry numbers – here’s a chart showing quite clearly what the difference is:
LED Savings Chart

Starting from a position of already owning fully functioning incandescent light bulbs and therefore no initial purchase costs we can see that after the first year the incandescent running costs are still slightly below the combined running and purchase costs of the LED bulbs. So no great advantage one way or the other for that first year. But that’s not the point…

Those who “don’t get it” focus on that nasty red shaded area showing the initial investment costs. Folk like me are considerably more interested in the blue shaded area which indicates the ongoing financial benefit of making that switch.

Think about it. People go to all sorts of bother switching electricity suppliers in pursuit of a few percent difference here and there. Switch to LED and watch that decimal point just glide one place to the left. Sweet innit? And if you want to perform your own calculations then you might find this rather handy.

Needless to say, as time goes on this already massive financial advantage that LED has over incandescent lighting just keeps on growing.

But there is more to this than just keeping your own neck above ever rising energy bills. Everyone and their pet hamster it seems has quoted the Union of Concerned Scientists, who themselves quote the EPA:

If every American household replaced just one incandescent light bulb with a CFL, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates that we would reduce global warming emissions equal to taking nearly 800,000 cars off the road.

Almost no-one ever provides the link to this quote (which is possibly why Google doesn’t list the original article in their search results – disingenuous platitudes about quality and attribution notwithstanding) so here it is.

Now it has to be said that this statement is now pretty dated and whatever savings were claimed for CFLs are now dwarfed by those possible with LEDs. But the point is that the savings achievable in global energy consumption are vast. The US Energy Information Administration estimated that lighting in the US accounted for 461,000,000,000 kWh of electricity in 2011 – equivalent to about 1/6th the total electricity consumption.

Taking out 90% of that 460+ billion kWh would massively lower demand for power, resulting in a corresponding decrease in the price of energy (supply and demand – which I’m sure you understand perfectly well so, no, I’m not doing another chart). Reduced power consumption also translates into reduced pollution (of both the regular and CO2 varieties) and would be generally welcomed as a Good Thing™

So, Apart From The Math…

So what Jo Luddite needs to ask herself is: do I really want to continue making involuntary contributions to the power company’s executive bonuses? With money I could easily find a better use for? Really?

Clearly the financial argument is water tight, assuming normal lighting use of four hours or more per day. The payback on each LED bulb kicks in for most folk at between one and two years. Thereafter you’re looking at cutting your energy consumption, and hence electricity bill for lighting by 80-90 percent.

But what about the light quality? Well it is different to what we all got used to with incandescent light bulbs. Most people (me included) characterize it as being somehow “more white”.

Initially it can seem a bit disconcerting, but that’s change for you. You quickly get used to a cleaner, whiter light and suddenly it’s the more yellow/orange/pink hues of incandescent bulbs that seem all wrong.

I’ve found that the best approach is to initially experiment with a few different candidates, then when you settle on specific bulbs that perform how you like, change all the lighting in the whole room. If you go piecemeal, one bulb at a time, the comparisons will drive you spare. This article hopefully provides some useful pointers.

Just do it, get used to it and within a week you’ll find the idea of going back hard to contemplate.


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