If you think compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs give your energy budget a big bang for its buck, wait until you see what light emitting diode (LED) lighting can do. Except that the operative word there has always been “wait” because that’s all we’ve been doing: so far scientists have only been able to create ultra-efficient LEDs that shed light in certain colors. It’s possible to coax nice rich white light from this technology but only by sacrificing most of its energy savings. In fact, the closest anyone has come to an Earth-saving LED you’d actually want to use in your home is one that produces a cold bluish glow and makes anyone standing under it look like a casting reject from the latest George Romero zombie epic.
Now comes the word we’ve been waiting for. And it may mean we won’t have to wait much longer.
According to New Scientist, Turkish researchers have found that if they coat blue LEDs with a layer of metallic nanocrystals, they get a light that’s right and a bulb that may change the world. Consider: a regular incandescent bulb emits somewhere around 15 lumens of light per watt of electricity used. A CFL does a lot better, producing about 67 lumens per watt. But these new LEDs? Would you believe 300 lumens per watt? That’s the equivalent of a conventional 100-watt bulb for just 6 measly watts.
Following John Muir’s astute observation that everything in the universe is hitched to everything else, we can see that the use of such hyper-efficient technology would make it a lot more feasible to use renewable energy at home and abroad. Sources like solar, wind, water, etc. typically don’t produce a ton of power. But if we’re combining LED bulbs with other available energy-conserving technologies, they wouldn’t have to.
The development calls forth rapturous visions of a day perhaps not too far off when we can light up our homes and our cities and everything in between like a Christmas tree on steroids with nothing in the way of carbon emissions or energy bills or even new bulbs. LEDs typically last for somewhere in the neighborhood of 100,000 hours. That’s over 11 years of non-stop use. Put an LED bulb in your living room lamp and your great-great grandchildren may be the ones to change it.
Clearly, this is a potentially huge development on the energy front. But the operative word there is “potentially” because this story naturally has some fine print. Namely, that the crucial nanocrystals aren’t yet easy to produce. It takes a bit of work to make one of these LEDs glow, and that’s not what we need to put them in every fixture on the planet. But the first step has been taken. And that always means the future isn’t far behind.