Energy Efficiency

Published on November 5th, 2014 | by Silvio Marcacci

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LED Lighting Efficiency Jumps Roughly 50% Since 2012

November 5th, 2014 by  

Well, looks like the 2007 law phasing out 100-year old incandescent light bulb technology in favor of newer light bulbs that waste less energy while providing more efficient lighting options is working.

Light-emitting diode (LED) light bulbs have improved their efficiency roughly 50% and expanded consumer options as federal regulations have tightened, according to a report from the U.S. Energy Information Administration (EIA).

At the same time, LED prices have continued dropping “dramatically” according to EIA, to the point where they make long-term economic sense for consumers even without government energy efficiency incentives.

Rising LED Efficiency, Falling LED Prices

Between 2012-2014 LED efficiency jumped from just over 60 lumens per watt to nearly 100 lumens per watt, and they may hit 150 lumens per watt by 2020. Compare LEDs to compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) with 55-70 lumens per watt, and traditional incandescent bulbs with 13-18 lumens per watt, and the LED advantage is bright as day.

LED manufacturers are not only increasing efficiency, they’re expanding options. EIA reports several manufacturers released Energy Star-qualified LED bulbs surpassing 100 lumens per watt in September 2014.

That competition is pushing prices down accordingly – the first LED priced below $10 hit the market in 2013, and North Carolina-based Cree just released a 60-watt equivalent LED that costs $7.97 but generates $135 in lifetime savings. The lower-cost trend will likely continue as millions in R&D funding for LEDs starts driving innovations.

Low cost LEDs

Consumer costs have been lowered even further – in some cases as low as $1.97 per LED bulb – through dozens of energy efficiency incentives. EIA estimates consumers received $400-470 million annually between 2011-2013 on efficient lighting through the Energy Star program, which maintains a list of available U.S. energy efficiency incentives online.

As a result of falling prices and favorable incentives, LEDs keep gaining market share. LED shipments skyrocketed from around 9 million light bulbs in 2011 to over 45 million bulbs in 2013. That’s good for around 2.3% of the general lighting market and combined with CFL shipments of 300 million annually since 2011, mean efficient lighting now makes up nearly a quarter of the U.S. lighting market.

Can LED Lighting Overcome The Color Rendering Index?

But even with all these cost and efficiency improvements, there’s still one aspect of lighting where LEDs don’t compete – the “warmth” of light given off by the bulb, as measured by the color rendering index (CRI).

Traditional incandescent bulbs have a CRI around 100, and while many LEDs have CRIs ranging from 20-30 (meaning a “cool” light), EIA notes several LED manufacturers have produced CRI values above 80. But again, technological advances are cutting that gap, as with Cree’s 2013 release of an LED with a CRI of 93. EIA also notes consumer studies report low correlation between consumer ranks and CRI values, meaning a low CRI doesn’t mean poor light quality.

And besides, with so many potential benefits to using LEDs combined with the positive low-cost and high-efficiency momentum, it’s going to take a lot more than just “cold” light to dim the outlook for efficient lighting.


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About the Author

Silvio is Principal at Marcacci Communications, a full-service clean energy and climate policy public relations company based in Oakland, CA.



  • Aaron Aarons

    How much waste in manufacturing and recycling costs, as well as loss of efficiency, is due to the use of AC current, which, I presume, has to be converted to DC before reaching the actual LEDs?. This is especially wasteful when using solar panels and converting their output to AC in order to connect to the grid.

  • Bob_Wallace

    Home Depot is selling 60 watt eq. A-19 Phillips for $3.97. 800 lumens. Non-dimmable.

    They’ve got an even less expensive model but it’s a brand I’m not familiar with – TCP for $2.51.

    HD’s prices on LEDs seem to change frequently. I picked up a couple of 60 watt eq. Crees for less than $4 each.

  • GregP507

    A light bulb will never seem efficient to me, as long as it gets hot enough to burn your fingers.

  • LogicDesigner

    About a year ago I bought a few Cree LED bulbs. One was the regular 2700K bulb and the others were the 93 CRI 2700K bulbs mentioned in this article. The latter were twice as expensive but have very good color quality. I can’t tell the difference between them and a regular incandescent, except for the lack of heat they produce. The regular 2700K bulbs, however, seem to slightly mute the colors in a room. I think the only reason I notice it is because I have both to compare against each other.

  • timbuck93

    I’ll wait until we get Philips “warm dimming” or dim tone technology in A19 or similar bulbs!

    Quite seriously have a 100 watt incandescent on right now.

  • Adrian

    FYI, (assuming I’m doing the conversion properly) a 100 lumen/watt LED is still only 14.6% efficient at turning electricity into light, so there is plenty of improvement available yet to exploit.

    • MrL0g1c

      My year old bulb is 105Lumen/W, maximum efficiency possible is 300Lumen/Watt or 44% efficiency according to Wikipedia.

      LINK: Lighting efficiency

      Side note: Why aren’t links coloured here? I hate that.

      • Uzza

        300Lumen/Watt or 44% efficiency according to Wikipedia.

        Maximum efficiency is 683 lm/w, but that is green monocrome light. Not that useful for lighting. For white light the max efficiency is 300-390 lm/w, depending on color temperature and how low you’re willing to take the CRI.

  • Bob_Wallace

    Yesterday in SF I saw 60 watt eq. CFLs selling 3 for $1. Thanks to PG&E subsidies.

    It’s not time to switch to LEDs for all ones lighting needs with almost as good bulbs for a small fraction of the cost.

    • justbychance

      You get a few benefits with LED compared to CFL – 1) no mercury so no worries with having to recycle when they die, 2) LED uses less power so if you have a lot of lights in your home you’re going to save even more power compared to CFL and 3) LEDs last longer and if you’re older or not in the best health not having to climb a ladder in order to change a bulb is worth the premium.

      • Larmion

        I’d hope you recycle an LED too. Gallium, arsenide, zinc, indium and the like are all heavy metals with potential environmental effects.

        No semiconductor should ever be discarded without proper processing and recycling. LED’s are no exception.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Breaking light bulbs is an unusual occurrence for most people and cleaning up a broken CFL is pretty simple and safe. The mercury thing is very over-hyped. The power savings is minimal. The lifetime of CFLs is pretty long (mine have lasted over 10 years).

        $6 vs. $0.33 is a large price spread.

        • MrL0g1c

          A good 50,000h LED bulb can save 500Kwh of power vs CFL, that’s about a $50+ saving per bulb.

          • Bob_Wallace

            It’s a matter of ‘good enough’ and ‘better’. If people are hesitating to swap out their incandescents due to the higher purchase price of LEDs they should be encouraged to use CFLs while they wait for LED prices to drop. Or replace their least used bulbs with cheap CFLs and spend a bit more and replace the most used with LEDs.

            The great thing that has happened in California is that it’s now cheaper to purchase a 60 watt replacement CFL than to buy a 59 watt incandescent.

            (59 watt bulbs showed up on the shelves a while back. The way to get around the 60 watt bulb ban.)

          • Larmion

            The problem is that many people buy CFL without being aware of its disadvantages, get upset and start hating all energy efficient lighting – something my parents had until I literally put an LED light in their kitchen behind their back and then showed it to them. The result? A bunch of lunatics hoarding incandenscents at their local DIY store.

          • Bob_Wallace

            A lot of resistance to efficient lighting is political. (But that is starting to break down, I think.)

            CFLs aren’t as good as LEDs, but they are cheap.

            By talking about “how bad” CFLs are (they don’t come on instantly, if you break one you shouldn’t snort the residue, they only last a few years) you may cause people to search out those 59 watt incandescents.

            We need people to move away from 59 watt incandescents to more efficient bulbs. If the lower price of CFLs creates a cut from 59 watts to 14 watt CFLs that’s a great improvement. Later they can make the move, perhaps gradually, to 9.5 watt LEDs. The savings provided by the CFLs will free up some cash for LED purchases.

      • Kyle Field

        You said what I was going to say…deleted my comment 🙂

    • Larmion

      CFL does have some noticeable drawbacks though.

      For starters, their lifetime suffers greatly when they’re cycled frequently. That’s not a biggie for a room where you infrequently spend long periods such as a study or dining room, but it poses a challenge in rooms you visit often but briefly (a bathroom for example): leave the light on and waste a horrendous amount of electricity or put it on and off and shorten lifespan dramatically?

      Then there’s color: many CFL lights still have high color temperatures and low CRI. The latter usually is only an issue in a closet or hobby room, but the former is annoying everywhere.

      And the warm-up time also makes them inconvenient for bathrooms, kitchens and other rooms you walk in and out of.

      But above all else: how much do you really save? The gap isn’t all that big anymore and the lifespan of an LED is far higher. That alone will close much of the difference and then there’s the cost of electricity.

      Also, comparing a subsidized product with an unsubsidized alternative is always dishonest.

      • Bob_Wallace

        There’s nothing dishonest about comparing the price of a subsidized product with an unsubsidized product. That’s the price at the cash register. We weren’t talking about the cost to manufacture.

        At $0.33 vs. $6 one can replace bulbs every five years vs. every 15 years and still be far ahead. Cycle frequently and still save money. (And five years from now LED prices should be a lot lower.)

        A LED will use less electricity than a CFL, but the real comparison needs to be made to an incandescent.

        A 800 lumen 60 watt incandescent could be replaced by a 13–15 watt CFL or a 9–12 watt LED. That’s (using medians) a 77% or a 83% drop in electricity use. The extra 6% comes at a high cost.

        I’ve used CFLs for almost 20 years. The early CFLs were slow to get to full brightness but I’ve never had a problem with not being able to find the toilet when the CFL was first turned on. Even with a reading light the few seconds lag is insignificant. Just turn on the light before sitting down and opening your book.

        LEDs are superior to CFLs and will work in some places where CFLs won’t, but let’s leave room for a perfectly adequate alternative that can cut electricity use significantly at a very much cheaper price. For those whose budgets would be strained by replacing all their incandescents with LEDs there’s a cheaper alternative.

    • Guest

      Gotta love that mercury 🙂 I went with CFLs as well and they are definitely cheap with the cali subsidies…but I just dont see the long term win there. The life span is also much shorter at ~3 years.

      • Bob_Wallace

        I’m still using CFLs that are well over 10 years old. My ‘getting close to 20 year’ first CFL has reached retirement age.

        I’m not saying that CFLs are a long term win. But the very sweet price makes it possible for people with shallow pockets to leave incandescents behind now. Then, over time, they can move to LEDs.

        • Steven F

          CFLs can last 10 years or more but the light output slowly drops every year. After about 3 or 4 years you might notice that it is not as bright as a new nearby next to it. This happens because the plasma in the buld damages the phosphor. Phosphor damage on LEDs can occur if the LED survives a power surge or if the bulb heats up to over 100C. Most of the time LEDs just stop working if it gets too hot or is hit by a power surge.

        • Steve Grinwis

          I’ve got CFL’s failing after five years. And the warm up time is quite noticeable and annoying. It’s not seconds, it’s half a minute to reach full brightness. Essentially, what I’m doing is replacing my CFL’s with LED as they die. And that tends to be high traffic areas.

          • MrL0g1c

            What I’m noticing with old Philips 100w equivalent CFLs is they are very dim now, I’d say they look like 25W (I think they were more like 60W equivalents to start with though).

  • justbychance

    LED prices have come down even more than you’re indicating here in this post. An $8 Cree bulb is cool but you can get a similar bulb for less:

    $5.99 – 60W Equiv. Soft White LED Bulb (1000Bulbs) – https://www.1000bulbs.com/product/113449/PLT-101233A19FR.html

    $5.99 – 60W Equiv. Halogen White LED Bulb (Newegg) – http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=9SIA6E32299356

    $6.99 60W Equiv. Soft White LED Bulb (Frys) – http://www.frys.com/product/8086274

    Most people need to buy more than just one or two so being able to save a few extra dollars per bulb adds even more to the energy savings of going LED.

    • Kyle Field

      I bought some of the early LED bulbs and found that many of the generics are simply crap for quality. I won’t ever buy an LED bulb (which should have a ~22 year life) that’s a generic because they just won’t last which kills the sustainability benefits, the ROI, the reduced maintenance, etc.

    • GCO

      So even ignoring shipping costs, those no-name bulbs are like 80 or 90% of the cost of a Cree or Philips. What are the chances that they’ll perform identically and last 80 or 90% as long?
      I’d say, slim to none. Trying to save a buck short-term would cost you more later.

    • Aaron Aarons

      Bulbs that are not dimmable are a lot cheaper than those that are. I’ve been buying the Feit brand for about $4 each — less in large packs. They seem OK, but I have no way of knowing how long they will last.

  • Larmion

    CRI is not a measure of how ‘warm’ light is – color temperature is. Color temperature, or the surface temperature of an ideal black body radiator that emits light of the same color as a light bulb, tells you how warm light is (with 2700k being comparable to an incadescent and 5000K beginning to approach sunlight).

    CRI is instead a number that tells you how faithfully a light source renders colors compared to an ideal, natural source of light like the sun. Very ‘cold’ light can have a perfect CRI and warm, pleasant light can score very poorly. In practice, however, CRI matters only to color sensitive work (photography, choosing clothes and that sort of thing). For a living room lamp, pick something that you find pleasing regardless of CRI; I personally have had lamps with CRI values as low as 80 that felt perfectly pleasant.

    • Steven F

      larmion is correct. Another way a explaining CRI is to look at the spectrum. A low CRI bulb may produce light in 3 wavelengths of light in the visual spectrum. A high CRI bulb in contrast will produce light in 200 or more seperate wavelengths in the visual spectrum.

      Color temperature in contrast is nothing more than a measure of what shade of white light the bulb produces.

      It should also be pointed out that incandescent bulbs have good CRI but you were limited to a color temperature of 2700K or 3000k. With LEDs you can get any color temperate you want.

      LEDs can give you any color temperature you want but with today’s bulbs CRI is limited to about 90 to 95%. This is mainly because current white LED bulbs can only produce one wavelength of plue light. Getting to 100% in LED bulbs would probably require replacing the blue LED with A UV LED and adding blue phosphor to the typical phosphors used today. That could be done today but the efficiency of the bulb would drop to about 6- to 70 lumens a watt. UV LEDs are not as efficient as today’s blue LEDs.

  • Michael G.

    I don’t know what the big deal over lighting is. According to the EIA, residential lighting is responsible for only 2% of CO2 emissions. Cutting that by 50% saves a whopping 1%. If you have solar panels, it matters not at all. Businesses have used flourescent lighting for years so cutting their use is much more difficult. The money spent on LEDs would be better spent on PVs for houses and parking lots.

    It is all very nice to conserve where possible but this 1% isn’t worth worrying about in the context of global warming.

    Turning down the typical home hot water heater 5 degrees would do more.

    Check out table 19 in:
    http://www.eia.gov/forecasts/aeo/

    • Philip W

      Every little bit helps. And if I can also save money, it´s a no-brainer for replacing defect light bulbs.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Exactly. Every 1% we can cut is 1% of coal we can shut down and 1% of renewables that we won’t have to build. If we can find a few of these 1%ers then we’ll get climate change slowed down much sooner.

    • Larmion

      Lighting is a big deal because it’s low hanging fruit – probably the lowest hanging fruit of them all.

      According to my back-of-the-enveloppe calculations, screwing in some LED lightbulbs has one of the highest ROI’s of any energy saving technique available as well as being one of the easiest. Oh, and the upfront cost is low enough to be affordable to anyone.

      Perhaps most importantly of all, it’s also a measure that doesn’t require any change in your life whatsoever. Light from an LED doesn’t look different, doesn’t feel different, doesn’t require any major renovation work etc.

      Electricity, green or not, is expensive. Upgrading grids to cope with rising demand is expensive. Simply using less electricity, however, is dirt cheap. That low hanging fruit must be picked.

    • stanson

      Remember LEDs can be used for non-residential lighting as well.

      • Kyle Field

        Good point. Many cities are putting in LED street lights as fast as they can.The early versions are a bit too intense for me…diffusers would be nice. It’s an easy win for cities because the ROI is straight forward based on the known pricing, know runtimes yielding an easy win for LEDs. Not to mention the reductions in maintenance from having to change out bulbs all the time…

        I personally would like to see more focus on replacing flourescent tubes with LEDs. I know companies have kits for this, but it kinda has to be that same kinda of plug n play for it to be an easy win for companies.

        • patb2009

          they make LED compatible t-8 bulbs

        • JamesWimberley

          Street lighting is probably a bigger deal overall than residential. Proportionately, the energy saving is less: Cree’s 42 watt LED light is designed to replace 100w sodium discharge lamps. But street and other outdoor lights are often on all night. LED lights lend themselves to better optics and less light pollution.

          Beacon Hill in Boston still has real gas street lamps, left running all the time. Conspicuous consumption for Brahmins.

        • GregP507

          I fear that many cities have jumped the gun a bit on LED lighting, before the technology has sufficiently matured. They are caught with very expensive transitional-technology fixtures, of which the reliability has not been fully established.

          • Bob_Wallace

            I’m seeing payback times as low as four and six years.
            If newer tech is significantly better early installers can switch over after a few years with no loss.

          • GregP507

            It’s not that using transitional technology isn’t an improvement over old technology; it’s regrettable that so much money was wasted before the technology had sufficiently matured.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Yeah, but if the early adopters hadn’t jumped in and created a market we might not have seen these improvements for many more years.

            As long as the first-in are saving money and will hit payback before their lights are kaput then they’ve lost nothing really. Best case they could have waited longer and saved more. But the wait might have been very long if no one goosed the industry.

            We’ve got cheap solar panels now largely thanks to Spain and Germany installing a lot of more expensive panels.

          • Kyle Field

            I just went to a sustainability symposium…rough guidance in the states for when LEDs make sense is when electricity pricing hits 8-9 cents/kwh. Key for LEDs is buying from a reputable buyer with a warranty. Many cities pay a premium for street lighting power…I think we were in (and are in) the 17c/kwh range so they are a no brainer. Makes no sense for off peak, base load usage but whatever…

      • Rtfa Zeberdee

        Yes, when i had a restaurant it worked out that 80% of the electricity bill was down to lighting. most businesses have a ceiling full of 50w halogens

        • Bob_Wallace

          I’m surprised. I would have thought the kitchen would have eaten a huge portion of the electricity used.

          • Rtfa Zeberdee

            we used gas in the kitchen. We had 60 x 50w bulbs and that like having 3 kettles boiling all the time. The 80% figure was from an energy consultant who check the whole building out.

    • Kyle Field

      Lighting is a big deal because it’s not a big deal. Lumens are lumens. 4700k lighting is 4700k lighting. That makes it an easy win to drive out that extra little bit of energy for the same customer experience. For residential, it can be a sizeable chunk…so makes it an easy win win for consumers.

      I also like that LEDs last so much longer (theoretically ~22years vs 1 for incandescents).

      • GCO

        Yes and no. Color rendering is also very important IMHO.
        Cheap LEDs, like cheap CFLs, may have the right color temperature (e.g. 3000 K) but horrendous CRI, making people and food look sickly.

        Re lifetime, LED chips can certainly last decades if kept cool, but whole bulbs probably won’t. The electronics driving the LEDs (capacitors especially) are likely to fail well before 20 years, with large differences between quality products and cheaper ones though.

    • patb2009

      “residential lighting is responsible for only 2% of CO2 emissions.”

      but if you look at electricity consumption

      “EIA estimates that in 2012, about 461 billion kilowatthours (kWh) of electricity were used for lighting by the residential and commercial sectors. This was about 17% of the total electricity consumed by both of these sectors and about 12% of total U.S. electricity consumption.”

      more importantly, lighting as a fraction of late night power consumption probably rises to 30-50%. at midnight a lot of lights are on but the building is empty.

      Also every watt of electric lighting reduced is 3 watts of HVAC consumption reduced…

      the use of LED lighting has a potential for significant change in the electricity market and is a quick easy cheap mover.

      • Michael G

        If all power were generated by PVs and wind the energy consumption wouldn’t matter at all. It is the CO2 that is the problem. And the same EIA states it is 2% of residential use per my link above. As I mentioned earlier, businesses have by and large used flourescent lighting for years so this doesn’t affect them very much.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Apparently a lot of retail stores have used lots of halogen lighting. Large department store chains have reported some significant electricity savings.

          The problem is that only a small percentage of our electricity is now generated by renewables. The quickest way to get rid of fossil fuels is to whack at them with as many knives as we can muster.

          We are just now (in the US) starting to replace 1% of fossil fuels with wind per year and we’re a few years away from there with solar. If we can cut demand by 1% a year that will be very helpful. That efficiency can come from many places including lighting – it will all add up. Three percent per year would get rid of coal in just over a decade.

      • stan

        When people start talking about co2 i start to wanna punch faces in. The last 18 years the polar ice cap has been getting bigger. in fact last year it was at its record size hasn’t been bigger since the Ice Age. where is this global warming you retards always talk about? this is all driven by corporations who trade carbon credits like their derivatives. your beloved Al Gore has one of those corporations. And makes billions of dollars every year on you idiots.

        • Bob_Wallace

          Back to the mushroom farm, stan. Fox has a fresh load of manure to feed you while they keep you in the dark.

    • EnTill

      I agree with you. Also, the extra heat light bulbs produce will be offset by heat not produced by your heaters so the actual energy savings is probably pretty small. The one thing I like though with the new lighting is the increased lifetime, I like not having to replace them constantly.

      • Bob_Wallace

        That pathetic old argument surfaces once more.

        If you stopped and thought for just a moment you would realize that the heat gain in the winter is offset by the additional AC needs during the warmer parts of the year.

        • jonesey

          Also, heat produced by bulbs is pure resistive load, while heat produced by a modern electric heat pump is created much more efficiently. If you need to add a certain amount of heat to a space, changing the light bulb and making the heat with a heat pump saves electricity overall.

      • Rtfa Zeberdee

        Insulation is the answer

      • Larmion

        For starters, electric heating is always a bad idea – the exergy value of electricity is far higher than that of heat. If you don’t have any PV, you’re turning fossil fired electricity (produced from heat at 40-ish % efficiency) back into heat, leading to massive losses. If you have PV, you’re wasting energy that you could have fed back into the grid and thereby reducing the demand for fossil fuels.

        Beyond that, if you live in an area where AC is prevalent, you’re wasting a lot of power during summer.

        And perhaps most importantly of all: a heater on or even recessed into the ceiling is not going to heat your room significantly. Hot air rises; heat produced near the ceiling will thus only contribute to ground level temperature when thermal equilibrium has been reached across the room – something that takes quite a while.

        • JamesWimberley

          Is “exergy” something I haven’t heard of, or just a boring typo?

          Electric heating gets a bad press. It was encouraged in nuclear France, which has a far higher residential electricity consumption than Germany – neither have significant amounts of a/c. David MacKay is also down on it. But why? The problem isn’t energy use as such, but carbon pollution. Wasteful use of renewable electricity, in speeding Teslas say, would be a very minor problem. I heat my house in southern Spain for four months with electricity (28% renewable and rising). The main alternative is kerosene, dangerous as well as polluting. The Danes are reviving the venerable night storage heater, a very good load balancing device if coupled to an intelligent grid and domotics.

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