A Luxuriously Efficient Light Bulb

on July 28, 2011 at 6:00 AM

It was an unusual setting for a light bulb show.

On Tuesday, Home Depot showcased its energy efficient light bulbs–including high-efficiency incandescent bulbs, compact florescent light bulbs (CFL’s) and light-emitting diodes (LED’s)–in the penthouse suite of the luxury hotel Setai Fifth Avenue. Bedrooms, bathrooms and kitchen were illuminated by the various kinds of bulbs, with employees from various major lighting groups, including CREE, Philips, Lighting Science Group, Lutron Electronics, and TCP, explaining just how much energy could be saved from their lighting devices.

“We wanted to tell the story, and the whole story, for consumers,” Home Depot’s VP of Electric Merchandising, Bill Hamilton told Breaking Energy at the event. Politicians, he said, have been obfuscating the issue of light bulb efficiency at a time when energy consumption is on the rise and consumers need to find ways to cut back on use.

“That’s why they call it politics,” Hamilton said.

With 20% of residential electricity consumption feeding light fixtures, Hamilton said he believed it is critical for residential consumers to become more aware of the technological advancements of LED and other energy efficient light bulbs. For example, a 60 watt “equivalent” LED light bulb may need only 14 watts of energy, Director of Retail Accounts for Lighting Science Darren Ashcraft showed on a power meter. The bulbs are also designed to last longer than incandescent bulbs with lifespans estimated at upwards of 25 years.

Hamilton said that while residential adoption has been slow, utility rebates for on LEDs and CFLs have significantly boosted business in recent months and now account for 10% of light bulb sales.

“Adoption of this new technology is absolutely necessary for consumers and for the electric grid,” Hamilton said. But the market, he said, is largely untapped, with only a tiny percentage of residential customers switching to efficient lighting options. Retrofitting will be a long process that residential consumers can also influence, he said, as cities and municipal buildings are slowly urged to make the switch as well.

But, Hamilton said, “consumers don’t know anything about it.” That is where Home Depot, a national supplier of home appliances, sees its opportunity in the market.

Retailers at the show focused on their newest technologies that provided light that was most similar to conventional incandescent bulbs while burning far less electricity. Though LED’s were once known for casting single-directional light and for glowing with a strange green tinge, some of the featured LED fixtures in particular are now almost interchangeable with traditional light bulbs.

Showing off light bulbs in the penthouse’s smaller bathroom, Lutron Electronics Senior Residential PR Manager Melissa Andresko emphasized that LEDs could now be dimmed and linked to automatic on/off sensors like incandescent bulbs. And although CFL’s have been around since the 1970’s, new features that make them smaller and more similar looking to incandescents, retailers hope, will make them more attractive to customers.

“When [CFL technology] was introduced, it wasn’t introduced in the eyes of the consumer,” Hamilton said. “It was made in an energy efficiency mindset.” For products to be widely adopted, he said, engineers, manufacturers and retailers have to start thinking about the consumer and how the product will be most attractive when brought the market.

One thing is certain: if every homeowner could move into the Setai penthouse and install light bulbs there, Home Depot would make a very easy sale.