The light-emitting diode (LED) is one of today's most energy-efficient and rapidly-developing lighting technologies. Quality LED light bulbs last longer, are more durable, and offer comparable or better light quality than other types of lighting.
LED is a highly energy-efficient lighting technology, and has the potential to fundamentally change the future of lighting in the United States. Residential LEDs, especially Energy Star rated products, use at least 75 percent less energy, and last 25 times longer, than incandescent lighting.
Widespread use of LED lighting has the greatest potential impact on energy savings in the United States. By 2027, widespread use of LEDs could save about 348 TWh (compared to no LED use) of electricity: This is the equivalent annual electrical output of 44 large electric power plants (1000 megawatts each), and a total savings of more than $30 billion at today's electricity prices.
How LEDs are Different
LED lighting is very different from other lighting sources such as incandescent bulbs and CFLs. Key differences include the following:
Light Source: LEDs are the size of a fleck of pepper, and a mix of red, green, and blue LEDs is typically used to make white light.
Direction: LEDs emit light in a specific direction, reducing the need for reflectors and diffusers that can trap light. This feature makes LEDs more efficient for many uses such as recessed downlights and task lighting. With other types of lighting, the light must be reflected to the desired direction and more than half of the light may never leave the fixture.
Heat: LEDs emit very little heat. In comparison, incandescent bulbs release 90 percent of their energy as heat and CFLs release about 80 percent of their energy as heat.
LED lighting is currently available in a wide variety of home and industrial products, and the list is growing every year. The rapid development of LED technology leads to more products and improved manufacturing efficiency, which also results in lower prices. Below are some of the most common types of LED products.
Industrial and Commercial Lighting
The high efficiency and directional nature of LEDs makes them ideal for many industrial uses. LEDs are increasingly common in street lights, parking garages, walkways and other outdoor areas, refrigerated-case lighting, modular lighting, and task lighting.
Kitchen Under-Cabinet Lighting
Because LEDs are small and directional, they are ideal for lighting countertops for cooking and reading recipes. The color can appear more cool or blue than is typically desirable in a kitchen, and there can be some excessive shadowing in some fixtures, so it is important to compare products to find the best fixture for your space.
Recessed downlights are commonly used in residential kitchens, hallways, and bathrooms, and in a number of office and commercial settings. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates there are at least 500 million recessed downlights installed in U.S. homes, and more than 20 million are sold each year. Both CFL and LED technology can decrease downlight wattage by 75 percent or more.
LED Replacement Bulbs
With performance improvements and dropping prices, LED lamps can replace 40, 60, and even 75 Watt incandescent bulbs. It's important to read the Lighting Facts Label to make sure the product is the right brightness and color for the intended location. When chosen carefully, LED replacement products can be an excellent option.
Originally published Nov. 14, 2013 and updated Jan. 10, 2016.