Monday, May 10, 2010

L-Prize about to be won?

Maybe you have heard of the X-Prize -- a contest to spur the public to get involved with space flight (not just governments)? Burt Rutan won that prize in 2004 with his SpaceShipOne.

Well there is a similar prize for Lighting called the L-Prize. It was designed to "spur lighting manufacturers to develop high-quality, high-efficiency solid-state lighting products to replace the common light bulb". Philips applied for the prize late last year. The competition continues, but they have already won the Time "The 50 best inventions of 2009" award. Philips isn't selling this lamp at the moment, nor do they even have a name for it, but Philips is a recognized leader in LED lighting technology.

The key requirement for the L-Prize is "solid-state" -- in other words LED. There is an fantastic potential for these devices. They last a long time (75,000+ hours), have higher energy efficiency than the best available CFL lamps, come in colors (many 'shades' of white as well), and can be dimmable through a full range (1% is no problem).

They do suffer from three key disadvantages (at the moment). Heat management is an issue (hard to believe since they draw a total of about 6 to 10 watts compared to 'burn-your-fingers-off incandescent lamps' at 40 to 100 watts). Totally spherical light output is hard to achieve (light mostly comes from the top of the lamp, not the bottom). And the killer is cost, which ranges from about $20 to $60. Those prices are what early adopters will pay, and will become lower over time, just as CFLs once sold for $30 and now can be bought in Walmart for $2.

However, even at crazy high prices, the lamps tend to pay for themselves in about 2-3 years due to increased energy efficiency and relamping savings. And prices are already on the way down. Enter the LSG A19 429 lumen (40 watt equivalent) lamp, soon to be marketed through Home Depot, lamp for $20.

Another entry at a much higher price point in that same market is the Pharox III marketed through as a '60 watt' equivalent. That 60-watt equivalent is a technical specification error on Amazon's part (the lamp efficiency is 60 lumens per watt, not 60 watts). Note that the rated 336 lumen output it doesn't even stack up to the light output of a 35 watt equivalent, let alone 500 lumens for a 40 watt, or the 850 lumen for a 60 watt incandescent lamp).

GE, never to be outdone in the lighting marketplace, is introducing their 40-watt replacement GE Energy Smart® LED bulb later this year at $40 to $50. They are marketing their lamp as closer to the spherical light output characteristics than other manufacturers. GE is wonderful at marketing their name and has the retail shelf space to prove it. That means they can most likely beat a no-name brand sold at half the price, even if it that brand is made in the USA (GE lighting products are often not made in the USA). How well they will stack up against the more useful Philips product (there are a lot more 60 watt lamps sold each year than 40 watt lamps), given that companies reputation as a leader in LED technology remains to be seen.

A few words of caution, with the exception of the LSG lamp listed above, if it costs less than $30, you can bet it is NOT DIMMABLE. Always check for this key ability if you need it. If it doesn't say dimmable, it isn't!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

There is hope...

In 10 years time, America has increased wind generation capacity by a factor of almost 13, one third of that coming in the last year alone. With cheaper and more abundant sources of equipment and expertise, this trend will certainly continue. With 35 GW of capacity at the end of 2009, that represents about 22% of the world's total installed wind power (about 160 GW), so we are catching up fast. We are now #1 on the list of countries (unless you consider the entire EU a single country, in which case they generate twice as much in total). America's total power generation capacity is 101,050 GW, so that means wind has increased from about 0.25% to 3.3% of our total capacity in the last decade. If the trend continues over the next decade, wind power could represent 30% of our total electrical capacity. Who says renewable energy is just a dream?!?

Visual aspects of wind power generation aside, we can't continue our reliance on fossil fuels to generate power for us. It is bad for the air we breath, the water we drink, and the fish we eat. Far too many people die defending the supply line, mining the earth, or in well explosions -- and the disasters of late simply drive this home. Yet our political leaders both current and past have done NOTHING to move us forward. Please just give us a Kennedy-like challenge to become green and sustainable by the end of this decade. This is a solvable problem if we just have the courage to accept it and bear the pain for the short time that will be required to move us to a better place.