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Energy, Sustainability

Incandescent, compact fluorescent and LED lamps

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Current LED lamps are five times more efficient than incandescent lamps and have a much longer lifespan than compact fluorescent light bulbs. To evaluate a product’s true efficiency, however, its entire life must be taken into consideration, from manufacture through disposal.

The 2009 OSRAM Opto Semiconductors study, “Life Cycle Assessment of Illuminants: A Comparison of Light Bulbs, Compact Fluorescent Lamps and LED Lamps,” compares the environmental performance of incandescents, compact fluorescents and LEDs.

The study examined the energy required for each product over its entire lifespan, including raw material production, manufacture and assembly, transportation, use, and disposal. Also examined were environmental impacts such as resource depletion, human toxicity, and greenhouse-gas generation. The report’s conclusions include:

  • Current-generation LED lamps need less than 2% of their energy consumption for their manufacture; the remaining 98% is turned into light.
  • LED lamps use 80% less energy than incandescent lamps over their lifetime.
  • LED lamps’ impact on the environment is consistently less than that of incandescent lamps.
  • Worldwide, lighting accounts for approximately 19% of electricity consumption, corresponding to 2.4% of energy consumption. Replacing incandescents with LEDs would theoretically reduce global electricity consumption for lighting by 50%.

The authors note that as the efficiency of LED lamps increases in the future, they will be capable of achieving even greater levels of efficiency.

A related report, “The Elephant in the Living Room: How Our Appliances and Gadgets are Trampling the Green Dream,” looks at home energy-consumption trends. The report, produced by the United Kingdom’s Energy Saving Trust, is based on long-term monitoring of 240 demographically diverse households to understand current power consumption, consumer attitudes and the long-term outlook.

Tags: global warming, technology, greenhouse gases, conservation

    Writer: | Last updated: March 13, 2013

    Citation: Finkbeiner, Matthias; Olsen, Stig; Hesselbach, Jens. "Life Cycle Assessment of Illuminants - A Comparison of Light Bulbs, Compact Fluorescent Lamps and LED Lamps," OSRAM Opto Semiconductors GmbH, Siemens Corporate Technology, November 2009.

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    Analysis assignments

    Read the OSRAM Opto Semiconductors study titled "Life Cycle Assessment of Illuminants: A Comparison of Light Bulbs, Compact Fluorescent Lamps and LED Lamps."

    1. Summarize the study in fewer than 40 words.
    2. Express the study's key term(s) in language a lay audience can understand.
    3. Evaluate the study's limitations. (For example: Do the results conflict with those of other reliable studies? Are there weaknesses in the study's data or research design?)

    Read the press release that accompanied the study.

    1. If you had written an article based only on the press release, what would have been its main shortcoming(s)?

    Read the study-related New York Times article titled "LED Bulbs Save Substantial Energy, a Study Finds."

    1. Reporter's use of the study: Evaluate what the reporter chose to include and exclude from the study. Would the audience have acquired a clear understanding of the study's findings and limits from this article?
    2. Reporter's use of other material: Assess the material in the article that is not derived from the study. (For example: Does the reporter place the study in the context of other research and to what effect? Does the reporter include reactions to the study from other researchers or interested parties [e.g., political groups, business leaders, or community members] and are their credentials or possible biases made clear?)

    Newswriting assignments

    1. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study.
    2. Spend 60 minutes exploring the issue by accessing sources of information other than the study. Write a lead (or headline or nut graph) based on the study but informed by the new information. (Does the new information significantly change what one would write based on the study alone?)
    3. Interview two sources with a stake in or knowledge of the issue. Be prepared to provide them with a short summary of the study in order to get their response to it. Write a 400-word article about the study incorporating material from the interviews.
    4. Spend additional time exploring the issue and then write a 1,200-word background article, focusing on major aspects of the issue.