Consumer Technology Cree LED costs less than $10

Published on March 6th, 2013 | by Tina Casey


Psst, Hey! Ya Wanna Buy A Low Cost LED Bulb?

March 6th, 2013 by  

The next generation of cutting edge, energy efficient lighting is just about ready for the mass market, now that the price of LED (light emitting diode) technology has started to fall. In the latest development, lighting innovator Cree, Inc. has busted through the $10-per-bulb barrier with a line of low cost LED bulbs designed for home use. The real revolution, though, is the one that starts in your head once you realize that the light bulb of the future is a permanent fixture, not a throwaway.

Cree LED costs less than $10

Advantages of LED Bulbs

LED technology is based on the movement of electrons in semiconductor materials, creating a phenomenon called electroluminescence. That’s a different cup of tea altogether than standard incandescent bulbs, which use electricity to heat a filament until it glows (and eventually, burns out).

LEDs have been used for specialty lighting for decades, but their high internal temperature was one of the main obstacles to developing them as drop-in replacements for standard household light bulbs. That’s the hurdle that Cree and other lighting companies have been tackling. The result is an LED bulb with a low external temperature, which can screw into just about any existing household lighting fixture as a drop-in replacement for standard bulbs.

Aside from using less energy to get the same amount of light, LED bulbs have a couple of other money-saving potentials. With no filament, they last far longer than standard bulbs, so replacement costs are practically nil.

LEDs also emit much less heat than standard bulbs (which waste 90 percent of their energy in the form of heat), so if you’re in a warm climate, LEDs won’t work against your cooling system, whether it’s a passing breeze, fan, or air conditioner.

There’s More to a Low Cost LED Bulb Than Cost

Just a couple of days ago we mentioned that switching to energy efficient LED bulbs is one way to make a real difference in your household energy consumption. In the case of Cree’s new bulbs, you get the same amount of light while saving 84 percent on the energy used for lighting, so while the up-front cost is more the payback period is quick.

That’s cool, but conserving electricity is just part of the savings, and here’s where that revolution we mentioned comes in. Standard bulbs suck up a lot of energy in the form of replacement costs, which encompasses the whole lifecycle of manufacturing, shipping, selling, and disposing, as well as the energy you spend running out to the store for bulbs, getting up on a chair to unscrew your light fixtures to change your bulbs, and for good measure, going to the emergency room because you fell off a chair replacing a bulb.

LEDs don’t eliminate those costs entirely, but they almost do. On average, we Americans move more than ten times over our lifespans, which still leaves enough time within each move for a standard bulb to burn out. That’s not going to happen with LED bulbs. Cree’s bulbs, for example, are designed for 25,000 hours of use, about 25 times more than the typical standard bulb.

The result is that you move in, you screw in your LED bulbs, and you forget about them.

The Cost of a Low Cost LED Bulb

For now, Cree’s 40 watt drop-in replacement LED bulb is selling exclusively at Home Depot for $9.97 (yep, only three cents below $10, but still…). That’s going to do the most good in basements, garages, closets, hallways, and multi-bulb fixtures.

Cree also has two drop-in 60 watt models for $12.97 and $13.97.

Whatever Happened to the Light Bulb Wars?

With all the new advances in lighting technology, it’s hard to remember that, just about one year ago, the world (part of it, anyway) was in an uproar over the so-called Obama Administration “light bulb ban.”

You might recall that the “ban” was actually a 2007 law (for those of you keeping score at home, it was signed by President Bush, not President Obama) that established new energy efficiency standards for U.S. lighting manufacturers. The new standards are effectively phasing out production of highly inefficient bulbs over the next several years, which means buh-bye to the standard incandescent bulb, eventually.

Conveniently shoving the legislative record under the rug, a number of prominent conservative pundits, politicians, and 2012 presidential candidates tried to gin up outrage over the “ban,” framing it as an attack on free choice by President Obama. The lone exception was candidate Mitt Romney, who took a more original approach by describing the new efficiency standards as an attack by “Obama’s regulators” on the spirit of American innovation embodied by such luminaries as Thomas Edison, Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and the Wright brothers.

Err… whatever. Anyway, short of raising four of the five aforementioned persons from the grave, it’s a good thing that a whole new generation of American innovators has stepped up to the plate, to help the U.S. quit leaning on 19th century lighting technology in a 21st century world.

Image: LED bulb courtesy of Cree, Inc.

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • Johnm

    These are 25,000 hour bulbs, not life-of-fixture bulbs. Sure, I’m replacing my bulbs from the 1990’s, as they go out, with LEDs, But those were rated at 20000 hours. Some LED’s are listed at 50,000 hours, but at this duration, they will probably feel obsolete before they fail. My 1995 CFLs feel obsolete, but the manufacturing energy and purchase cost makes it better to keep them for longer. By the way, it’s harder to convince people to pay more for a 30 year bulb that a 15 year.

    • Bob_Wallace

      I would be very hesitant to pay double for a 30 year bulb over a 15.

      I’d like to try out a LED but my CFLs just won’t wear out. And I picked up a half dozen spares for $0.50 each a couple of years back. I’m many years from needing to buy a new bulb.

      My first CFL is now functionally done. And I’ve got a second which has started taking longer to reach full brightness. That’s over 15 years. I might actually skip the LED era and replace with whatever comes after them.

  • mzso

    Unfortunately the values are not impressive. They’re similar in efficiency to ebay 5050 led light sources.

  • This has been re-posted in the service region of Bonneville Power Administration, USA Northwest states. There, and here, an important audience should see that point-source light bulbs are a foolish application of naturally-directional LEDs.

    Point-source lighting is a relic that will persist only for a time, while we try to pull value from expensive bulb fixtures, as decor. In tricking LEDs to deliver omni-directional light, more than half of drawn energy is wasted, where task lighting is wanted. We can not, and will not, tolerate such waste.

    LEDs allowed to deliver directional light upon a task give more than times-two task illumination for produced lumens. LED directional flood and track lights have this “surprising” excess vs. stated lumens, and replace incandescent, halogen and CFL bulbs as best-buy. A cheaper LED omnidrectional bulb is not yet a better buy than a CFL.

    I comment on this with a good bit of dismay. Best residential lighting for the past two years has been Glimpse, from Lighting Science. All produced light beams from these simple Plate LEDs. They are the best alternative to a downlight can, and permit elimination of cans often criminally-hacked-in by the dozens in a fancy new home or deluxe remodel, left to bleed heat where placed in attic floors. Who noticed the Glimpse lights? Who raved about them? Who has worked to deliver better models due after two years of experimental and slim production?

    Let us promote best possible LED lighting, at lowest possible cost.

  • Particularly with spot and flood lights, LEDs are a no brainer. LEDs are naturally directional, so they work well with that. They have a light similar to traditional incandescents, last 20 times longer and are prices only a couple multiples higher. (If you multiply the cost of an incandescent by 20, you’ll realize why that alone is worth the cost, plus the energy savings.) In addition, they’re dimmable.

  • Ronald Brakels

    Saw LED bulbs for sale in Australia for the first time today. They were $25 dollars and according to the packageing these particular ones weren’t so bright. While I could work out they weren’t that bright by comparing the lumens to CFL bulbs, a lot of people might not realize this when they buy them and so unfortunately be disapointed. Currently in Australia we don’t know how to tell how bright things are and we end up saying things like, “This a 12 watt bulb, so does that mean it’s as bright as a 60 watt bulb or a 100 watt bulb?” Oddly enough all the LED bulbs were the screw in type which is a standard so old in Australia even my decrepit old place, which I think was towed over with the first fleet, is half changed over to bayonet fittings.

    • Think it’s basically the same in the US — just think in watts.

    • Yeah always go by the lumens. It’s a marketing issue. They’re always going to oversell them, but they have to report the lumens accurately.

  • Otis11

    Huh, so I suspected that they lowered the price by using lower efficiency LEDs in the bulb which would make the overall power draw higher than their more expensive (and more efficient) brethren. With this in mind I did some digging – these are actually slightly more efficient than the L-prize light bulb!

    The thing that these do give up on a bit is Color Rendering Index. They only have a value of 80 (Which is the minimum to be considered Energy Star applicable) where the L-Prize bulb has a rating of 93. Just for reference, the cheap CFLs are in the 70s normally but can go as low as 50 or 60 CRI. The CFLs that are Energy Star rated are all above 80 CRI and can go into the mid 90s, but these higher ones are typically expensive. Basically at a value of 80 most people wouldn’t be able to tell a difference, but if you are light sensitive the L-Prize bulb might be worth the extra.

    Definitely going to try one of these next time a bulb burns out. (Which might actually be a while – these CFLs just never seem to die. Haven’t had to replace one yet)

    Also, for those wondering – all 3 versions are dimmable.

    • Tina Casey

      Thanks for the digging and the additional details, Otis11. I’m still waiting for my CFLs to burn out, too, and then I’m going to try some LED bulbs.

    • Interesting. Thanks for the extra notes. And yeah, Cree seemed *super* excited about this product.

    • The efficiency is the LED driver, not the LEDs themselves. The bulbs have to convert higher voltage AC to low voltage DC. Different designs have different efficiencies, but as you can imagine, the more efficient they are, the more expensive the design tends to be. It’s similar to a cheap cell phone charger versus a more expensive, more efficient one.

      • mzso

        Not true. Their obsession with dimmability got the better of them. The cheapest led driver circuit just has a diode bridge, two capacitors (one for current limiting and one for smoothing the current) and some resistors to prevent electrocution.

        I (with help) actually built the lighting for my room with 40 1w leds: ( ) underdriven at 150 mA-s instead of 300 so that it doesn’t require cooling and is more efficient. I fixated them on a cable duct the whole length of the room so I use the light more efficiently (because the light is more diffuse and there’s very little shadowing.)
        Anyway all in all I use less than 20W-s for the lighting for the whole room on full power, which I rarely use because it’s unnecessary.

  • Bill Kuhl

    I have started replacing bulbs with LED bulbs, before that CFL. My utility company said I am using 30% less electricity than my neighbors. I now there are other reasons for that but it all helps.

    • Nice. Yes, lighting seems like a small thing, but really isn’t. (& what else have you changed?) Are you using Opower to compare?

    • Cao Jie

      wowo,you are ture,LED Lighting can save 50% than CFL. ,it’s a LED Downlights,LED spotlights,LED Panel lights supplier

  • Ronald Brakels

    Great to hear they’ve come down so far in price. I guess there’s no more need to superglue them into the light fitting.

    • Tina Casey

      Hahaha yes these are drop-in replacements. They are shaped like standard bulbs and they screw into standard fixtures. Also, depending on the manufacturer and the model, LED bulbs can be used with dimmer switches.

      • samba

        But they stink, bought 20 + of them a year ago and already have some shorting out. Thought they were awsome when I first put them in, looked and felt like a regular bulb. Replaces just as often apperarently at 4X the cost. Lovely adventure. Glad our government saw this as the future and cancelled production of normal 60 watts.

        • mzso

          If you use ebay crap that can happen.
          Good bulbs last the appropriate time and have guarantee anyway.

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