Great report by Steve Gelsi of Marketwarch.
By Steve Gelsi, MarketWatch
NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- With sales of pricy compact fluorescent bulbs
slowed to a stop by the recession, the lighting industry is sharpening
its focus on light emitting diodes in the hope this next-generation
technology can rev up sales.
While the cost of a compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulb has fallen as
low as $2.50 each in multi-packs, old fashioned light bulbs sell for 40
cents apiece, helping the older incandescent technology maintain its
Major bulb makers GE
, Siemens AG
and Philips gathering at the Lightfair International show this week in
New York City looked toward the next generation of light emitting
diodes (LEDs) as the next big thing in modern illumination.
While CFL sales now comprise a big chunk of the industry -- 20% or more
at some companies -- the business has edged lower over the past 12
Lighting Industry Pioneering a Better, Energy-Saving Bulb
MarketWatch's Steve Gelsi reports from the 2009 Lightfair International
conference, where offering more illumination for less power and less
money is now the name of the game. He discusses compact florescent
lamps, or CFLs, with actor and activist Ed Begley Jr. and light
emitting diodes, or LEDs, with Ostram Sylvania CEO Charles Jerabek.
"It's a problem all of industry has right now
because times are pretty tough and the economy isn't growing," said
Charles Jerabek, CEO of Osram Sylvania, a unit of Siemens. "It just
puts a further challenge on us."
Light makers are showing off a growing stable of LED lights. With New
York City and other major urban areas already using LEDs in traffic
lights, the industry hopes to add to its success with street lights.
LEDs last much longer than CFLs and contain no mercury, a setback faced by compact fluorescent light bulbs.
Actor Ed Begley Jr., a speaker at Lightfair International and a
well-known green power advocate in the entertainment industry, argued
that CFLs help cut harmful emissions from coal-fired electricity plants
by saving power, even though they contain some toxic materials.
"You're better to buy the (CFL) bulb even with that miniscule amount of
mercury -- about the same as in a couple of cans of tuna -- and then
recycle it at Ikea or Home Depot," Begley said. "If you don't buy the
bulb you're putting more mercury into the air where you can't reclaim
Begley also championed the use of longer-lasting LED lighting now being
deployed in the motion picture and TV industries as a way for studios
to cut down on electricity bills and the expensive labor costs of
Sylvania just introduced its first direct LED competitor to the 40-watt
light bulb. The LED bulb uses 8 watts of power to produce about the
same amount of light as a 40-watt bulb. The LED bulb's expected life of
25,000 hours amounts to eight times the life of a conventional light
bulb. However, at a current cost of $50 each, the new bulb isn't quite
ready for prime time.
Industry mavens hope to bring the cost down over time as they move past
the less efficient incandescent bulb, which inadvertently turns most of
the energy powering it into heat instead of light.
For this reason and others, Congress in 2007 approved a phase-out of incandescent bulbs starting with the 40-watt bulb in 2012.
Begley, who owns an electric car that he uses solar cells to recharge,
said LED light bulbs could eventually take their place as the next big
thing to save energy cheaply.
"I was a broke, struggling actor in 1970 -- I did the cheap and easy
stuff that was available" to be green, he said. "There's many more
choices today. CFLs are affordable to anyone today. You'll save money
right away with energy-saving thermostats, weather stripping around
your doors and windows."
Meanwhile, the trade group NEMA is expected to release its
first-quarter survey of CFL sales next week. In the fourth quarter of
2008, the incandescent share of household lamp sales increased slightly
to 77.5%, as consumers eschewed costlier CFLs.
Steve Gelsi is a reporter for MarketWatch in New York.