The Light of the Future?

A few weeks ago, Seattle City Light sent out an offer for a free residential LED bulb as part of the Operation LED campaign. I hadn’t gotten around to buying one yet as I still have plenty of CFLs around, so I was pleased to take advantage of the offer, which, as far as I can tell, is still available here online.

Mine arrived today, and I was expecting something much cheaper, but no! This is actually quite a nice bulb, a Phillips Dimmable 60W equivalent light, selling for $8.25 a piece on Amazon, as of this writing.

After using it for a while, I can say that I’m sold, and will be buying LED bulbs exclusively from now on. With price points for conventional bulb-replacements as low as they are, the only thing stopping me from replacing my entire home setup are that my current CFLs are still going quite nicely. Those guys last!

Seattle City Light’s regular mailings suggest that they care quite a bit about responsible generation and consumption of power, and are often engaging the population on these topics. They are proud of how they’ve come along in being carbon neutral, and it’s commendable. Some 96% of grid provided electricity under Seattle City Light comes from renewable sources, and I’ve been impressed at some of the larger initiatives around solar power  including community solar farms that they’ve undertaken. Rather than just an agency to take your money, it, to me, as a public utility, it seems like they recognize their role in ensuring the region’s resource management is sustainable, and that engaging the population is a crucial part of getting the citizenry involved.

Of course, as a voting member of my municipality’s public utility, I expect as much, but I’m impressed with the LED campaign. Thank you, City Light, for providing me my first ever home LED! It was only a decade ago that CFLs became a mass market product, but alas, like all tech, innovations are quite disruptive, and I see very few benefits of keeping around CFLs over LEDs.

Now, onto the light!

Light Bulb 3.0 Unboxing

https://citylightbulb.efi.org/

The first thing I noticed after pulling out the bulb was that it wasn’t quite a bulb at all; more like a plastic halo around a thin/flat core. Not that I’m complaining; whereas CFLs had a myriad of components and intricate/delicate glass loops, the LED bulb was just a solid plastic core, simple and elegant, and felt quite durable.

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L) Original 60W incandescent bulb; C) 18W CFL I had replaced it with. R) 10.5W LED.

It was fully encased in plastic, and felt quite sturdy, at least compared to glass light bulbs and CFLs; this one seemed like it would withstand a fall from a kitchen counter. Some earlier generation LED bulbs needed to incorporate a fan to prevent overheating, but this one seems to be entirely passively cooled and runs (mostly) silently. It does warn against using in a fully enclosed container, though it also states that it is suitable for use in damp conditions.

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The overall shape is that of a flattened standard bulb, so fit should not be a concern for most settings. The standard light bulb socket (E26) is used here ensuring near broad compatibility.

Let there be light

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I was concerned that there may be some trade-offs with the LED compared to incandescents or CFLs, but after a bit of use, I legitimately can’t think of any beyond the upfront cost. The color spectrum is stated to be 2,600K, and it felt quite warm indeed, at least at the level of the “natural spectrum” CFLs I had been using.

It was also quite bright! At only 10.5 W, it expends a mere sixth of the 60W incandescent bulb it replaces, and 40% less power than the CFL. More crucially it, allegedly, has a 22-year lifespan! That’s incredible, that a disposable product could last that long. Whoa.

 

 

If you squint really closely, you can make out the physical hoop where the light diodes are situated, but in most cases, it’s too bright to look at directly.

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I was also curious to know how it would do temperature wise, and I was surprised at how hot it did get. While markedly cooler than incandescent or CFL-bulb temperatures levels, it felt quite warm to touch. I suspect this could be improved upon in the future, for perhaps a a next gen bulb may need only 5W, with less heat dissipated.

Even with this, this is a big step forward.

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Conclusion on the Benefits of LEDs

LEDs are awesome, and in early 2015, they’re reaching a price point where I’m fairly certain that their adoption will accelerate through this decade, and be the preferred source of light everywhere. The key benefits that I saw from my brief time with this bulb are:

Instant on – When you want it, it turns on as soon as you flip the switch, instantly, even faster than incandescent bulbs. This was not true for CFLs, many of which had a noticeable delay (up to a second or several seconds) between flipping the switch, and the CFL being warmed up and at full output.

Power efficient – CFLs were already quite remarkable in their efficiency, and LEDs take that another leap forward, saving yet another 40% in my personal case. There is less heat wasted.

Temperature tolerant – I had replaced a refrigerator bulb with a CFL, and was plagued by dim lighting due to the cold. LEDs on the other hand seem much more tolerant to the temperatures needed, producing far improved light. They’re also much cooler to touch than incandescent or CFLs, though I only ran mine a few minutes.

No mercury! – CFLs are known for their various warnings indicating the dangers of broken bulbs and often including obvious warnings that inside contains things like mercury, cadmium, and other potentially toxic substances. Not so for the LEDs, as far as I can tell, which is a huge step forward in safety.

Durable – The bulbs themselves, if they’re anything like this Phillips model, are far more durable and protected from damage (and injury to the user) than bulbs of previous varieties. I suppose they’ll need to be to weather 22 years of use.

Long lasting – Incandescent bulbs lasted some 2000-4000 hours at best, CFLs last some 8,000 hours, and LEDs an incredible, 25,000 hours! Under given use cases, the methods would last 2-3, 5, 20-years, respectively. I remember reading that the light bulb industry deliberately reduced the lifespan of their bulbs, in order to sell more replacements. So, hooray for pro-consumer changes that throw out that strategy, in favor of innovation-driven replacements.

So, overall, I’m pretty pleased! Thanks again Seattle City Light!

  • Zack Gomez

    I received my bulb today and I am very impressed. I will be using it tonight to study and do some quizzes for college. Thank you very much!

    • That’s awesome! I stuck it in my refrigerator, and now it’s the brightest it’s ever been! The socket has a max 40W limit, so this would not have been possible with incandescent.