LED Bulbs: The Wave of the Future?


Have you ever noticed how some movies use different color filters to achieve various cinematic effects?  An example of this that always stands out in my mind is the movie Traffic, which used blue and yellow filters to great effect, if my memory serves.  Of course, this is hardly the only movie that does this, but it sticks out most clearly in my mind, for whatever reason.  Have you ever viewed things through a blue filter in real life?  If you’ve ever used an LED bulb, the answer to that question is probably yes.

I hate LED bulbs.  Yes, I know that they save energy.  Yes, I know that incandescent bulbs are single-handedly responsible for the downfall of mankind.  You know what?  I don’t give a toss.  I hate the unnatural, dim glow of LED bulbs.  It reminds me of being surrounded by the glow of a computer screen.  It makes me feel like a nerd in a Tron-like movie where I’m about to be sucked into an alternate universe and then chased by guys on really cool motorcycles, probably also lit by LED.  While this description may sound somewhat cool, it really isn’t.  Brushing my teeth in a blue-filtered, white-washed reality isn’t pleasing or nice; it makes me feel like I’m going insane.

Incandescent bulbs?  Totally different story.  We have an incandescent bulb in our hall that literally lights our entire apartment.  We have an LED in the bathroom and the incandescent in the hall.  The LED barely manages to illuminate our tiny bathroom, which is approximately 7’x2 1/2′, including the bathtub.  Believe me, it’s hardly asking the moon to light this closet-like space up, but that light bulb fails miserably at the task.  The incandescent bulb illuminates the majority of our living area and kitchen in a warm, yellow, inviting glow that makes me think of summer and/or 1975.  In other words, it makes me feel happy and at peace.  LED blueness makes me feel like I’m stuck in Alaska (Land of Winter and 18+ Hours of Night) on a permanent basis.

Why is this even mildly relevant?  Well, fortunately for you US readers, it really isn’t.  There was a move last year to ban incandescent light bulbs, but it failed to pass the Congress.  However, the area several other countries that are now facing bans on our yellow friends, including the whole of the EU, Australia, Canada, Taiwan, Japan, China, and South Korea.  Since I’m currently a SoKo expat, that would include me.

I had passingly followed the debate in the US, quickly decided that I was in favor of whatever the free market would do by itself, and didn’t think much more of it.  It seemed like there were bigger fish to fry, although the government telling you what bulbs you can and can’t use is about as close to telling you when to wipe your butt as you can get.  Unfortunately, if there was any debate in South Korea about the bulb wars, the incandescent bulb lost.  By 2013, incandescents will be totally phased out in Korea.

I went on a light bulb run about four months ago.  At that time, there were a few, though not many, incandescent bulbs available at our local discount store.  I picked up a bunch and a fluorescent for our overhead and went on my merry way.  Because we use the incandescent bulb a lot, they go quickly. We don’t turn on the LED or fluorescent lights, if we can avoid it, since we prefer the glow of the incandescent and don’t need a lot of lights on at night.  When I returned to buy another big ol’ box last weekend, they had mysteriously disappeared.  My husband and I were perplexed, until I thought of the proposed ban in the US.  I figured if the US was attempting to do it, there was a good chance it had already happened in other places.  Sure enough…

A lot of people have made the argument that we shouldn’t be using incandescents because they are so inefficient.  We should all be doing our part to save the environment.  Others make the argument that nobody should be forcing our choices on things like this.  The free market should decide.  Guess where I fall?

Here’s the thing.  I like the idea of saving money on lighting.  The thing is, I don’t use tons of lights, anyway.  At any given time, we have a maximum of three lights on in our apartment.  According to a nifty little calculator I found on the Internet, we could stand to save about $321 per year if we could switch to an LED bulb.  And another thing! In order to the get the same amount of light from one incandescent bulb, I need about three LED lights.  Seriously, they suck.  I read constantly at night, and they are terrible for reading.  Part of this is due to the fact that they tend to emit light in a direct beam, rather than radiating outward like incandescents.  Not brilliant for someone who spends a good 2-3 hours in any given night reading.

Before you jump all over me, no, I don’t think it’s a good idea to pollute the Earth.  I’m as big on trees and critters as the next person.  However, I also value a well-lit house, particularly in my reading nook.  I understand that people think we need to get away from incandescents, but are LED lights really the future of lighting technology?  Am I really going to have to view myself in blue for the rest of my life?

At the end of the day, I think the market should be making these decisions, not the government.  I don’t like LED lights.  I would prefer to buy incandescent bulbs, especially give that I am in a somewhat transient position now.  Korea is not my “forever” home; this is just a temporary stop.  Paying about $40 for a light bulb, at this point, means that I’m paying $40 for another year of use on the bulb.  I might need to replace the incandescent three or four times in that year-long period, but they only cost like, $3.  At most, I’d be paying $12.  So somewhere in there, my energy savings would have to amount to about $28 over a year on one light bulb for me to be able to break even.  Whether or not it would do that, I’m not sure.  Current estimates seem to suggest that it takes about two years to see a return on an initial LED bulb investment, which would indicate to me that I probably wouldn’t see a return on my investment.  Couple that with the facts that I really need three of the little buggers to sufficiently illuminate the same amount of space and I hate the blue glow and what it comes down to is this: I’d really rather just leave the LED on the shelf, at least for now.

I think LED technology is perhaps a transitional technology.  I know I’m not the only person who doesn’t feel 100% love for the Smurfs of the lighting world.  At this point, they’re quite expensive, which may make them somewhat inaccessible for folks in certain income brackets who don’t have the luxury of waiting to see returns on an investment.  Many people right now could not afford to be spending this sort of money on a light bulb.  Thankfully, the US government mandate failed.  This might be the one instance when government has worked in the favor of our pocketbooks recently.

In any case, I hope that the cost of these things comes down and quality improves over time.  I feel that eventually the mandate will be revived and will pass, which is usually what happens to this sort of thing.  I also wish that, at least here in Korea, we were being given the option of choice.  Let the two bulbs duke it out on the market.  If the LED bulb is not a worthy competitor, perhaps it should be replaced with something else that is – something cheap that lasts a long time and doesn’t make my house look like a scene from Tron.  Allowing a competitive market to force innovation: what a novel idea.  It’s working wonders in the tablet industry.  Why can’t it work in the lighting industry?

Read more about the blue wonders below.


“LED bulbs: The end of the lightbulb as we know it?” – BBC World News

“Congress overturns incandescent bulb ban” – The Washington Times

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About The Lady Libertarian
I am American, currently expatriated but hopeful about getting back home one of these days. Besides reading and writing about politics, I enjoy camping, sailing, canoeing, making pie, and traveling. I hope you'll enjoy this blog and find it informative and accessible.

2 Responses to LED Bulbs: The Wave of the Future?

  1. peterdub says:

    Hello LL

    Certainly agree the ban on any safe to use product is wrong.

    All products have advantages.
    Energy savings is only one such advantage
    Ironically the overall savings are small anyway for many reasons
    http://ceolas.net/#li171x
    A fraction of 1% of overall US energy use, on Dept of Energy stats etc

    LEDs have their advantages too, but so therefore do incandescents,
    with their smoother broad spectrum light quality (and higher color rendering index)

    Re ” incandescent bulbs are single-handedly responsible for the downfall of mankind. ”
    😉
    You may be interested in the deception arguments used to ban incandescents,
    and why they don’t hold up, as referenced on “Freedomlightbulb blogspot com”
    (can’t complete the link cause wordpress blocks blogspot but not other links!)

    Energy savings are exaggerated, and there is no future energy shortage to justify telling paying consumers how to use electricity they pay for
    What exactly is a “waste” of energy?
    A product unnecessarily left on is a waste of energy.
    The personal choice of what product to use is not a waste of energy.

    Light bulbs don’t burn coal or release CO2
    Power plants might not either
    If there is a problem, deal with the problem

    Besides, effectively the same coal gets burned regardless of whether your light bulb is on or off:
    Relevant domestic lighting is mostly used from 5pm onwards.
    Coal plants are on all the time at basically the same output level.
    Slow and cheap.
    They can’t really be turned down at night, as it takes too long to power up in the morning, and to some extent this is true of other base loading power, like nuclear energy.

    Manufacturers sought and welcomed the ban
    Why welcome being told what you can make? 🙂
    Profitability of course, which they have freely admitted, as linked.

  2. peterdub says:

    Incidentally,
    the common reply that “it is not a ban on incandescents, just an energy efficiency standard”
    is not true,
    as the US and EU end regulation standards (45 lumen per watt in USA) will effectively ban also the touted halogen type incandescent replacements for ordinary use.
    As the major manufacturers welcomed the ban on profitability reasons, they would be unlikely to further improve unprofitable incandescents anyway.

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