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LEDs: A Holiday Gift That Keeps on Giving

Noah Horowitz

Posted November 25, 2013 in Curbing Pollution, Living Sustainably, Moving Beyond Oil, Solving Global Warming

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Switching to energy-saving LED lighting to brighten the holidays and America’s homes, businesses, and streets could lower U.S. electric bills by billions of dollars and avoid millions of tons of pollution annually. That would truly be a gift that keeps on giving.

Swapping out your old, inefficient bulbs for longer-lasting, highly efficient, cost-effective LED bulbs is easier than ever with the vast multitude of options available today. Adding LEDs to your holiday shopping list is guaranteed to put some “green” into the gift recipient’s pocket and help the environment, too.

ENERGY STAR LED Decorative Light StringsLight Up the Holidays with LEDs

When choosing lighting to decorate your home inside and out this holiday season, give yourself a gift by purchasing LED lighting that not only uses 80% less energy than the conventional incandescent version, it comes in every imaginable color and shape, can blink, and some strings even resemble melting icicles. Unlike traditional incandescent Christmas tree lights that get so hot they can burn your fingers, LEDs are cool to the touch. And the amount of electricity required to keep a single traditional 7-watt incandescent Christmas bulb burning today can power 140 LEDs – or two 24-foot strings of holiday lights – according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

And, says EPA, if all of the decorative light strings in America met ENERGY STAR® energy-savings requirements, we could cut our nation’s electric bill by 700 million kilowatt hours per year -- which translates to annual savings of around $90 million on our utility bills. That would buy a lot of gifts --more than 25,000 brand-new Priuses, for example.

Saving all that electricity also would avoid a significant amount of dirty power generation and the pollution that harms our air and children – so we’d be giving them a great holiday gift, too.

LED holiday lights can last up to 20,000 hours so they’ll also be twinkling for many years to come. A string of 150 small holiday lights costs about $12, or less, at the big box stores, which is a bargain considering how long they last and that they’ll pay for themselves via the energy they save. If you’re the type that enjoys creating outdoor holiday displays so stunning that cars stop to admire your decked-out lawn, you might be able to cut your holiday electric bill by an estimated $100 or more by using LED lights instead of the older incandescent versions.

Still not ready to abandon your incandescent holiday lights? You can reduce your energy bill by turning them off during the day and/or putting them on a timer to make sure they’re not burning when no one’s home or everyone is asleep at night.

Why stop with holiday lights?

Here’s an even bigger holiday gift suggestion: If we could get an energy-efficient LED light bulb into each of America’s 3 billion screw-based sockets that still contain an inefficient incandescent or halogen bulb, we could save a whopping $13 billion annually on our utility bills and 30 coal-burning power plants’ worth of electricity.

You can make a start by purchasing one of those new LED bulbs available at stores such as Home Depot and Wal-Mart to give as a Christmas or Hanukkah gift. They start at around $10 each, and over their 25year lifetime a LED bulb will save over $150 compared to your old 60-watt bulb that you have to replace every year. Once they’ve “seen the light” about LEDs, the lucky gift recipients will want to buy more. NRDC’s recently updated light bulb shopping guide at makes it really easy to choose the right LED bulb to replace those old, inefficient incandescents. Here’s a chart from that guide to help you.

NRDC Lighting Chart

LEDitys by Pӧrrӧ under Creative CommonsTaking the savings to the streets

While you’re watching out the window for Santa, take a moment to notice the streetlights shining in the darkness, which continues for about 14 hours a day in the dead of winter. There are more than 26 million inefficient lights illuminating America’s streets, parking lots, and highways. If all of them were magically switched to far more energy-efficient LED lamps – by Santa or forward-thinking municipalities that want to make a good investment to lower their power bills (and property owners’ tax bills) while helping to reduce global warming pollution – we could save about a billion dollars a year.    

What’s more, if LEDs continue to become more efficient and if every fixture (including residential, outdoor, commercial and industrial) in America contained one, the Department of Energy projects we would save $30 billion annually in 2030.

Now that would be a wonderful gift to our wallets as well as the environment.

LED holiday lights courtesy of EnergyStar.gov and LED street lights by Pӧrrӧ under Creative Commons.

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Comments

Ann CovaltNov 30 2013 10:32 PM

I'm as energized by LED development as much as the next guy, for the reasons you note. But would also be good to know what environmental issues there might be re disposal, especially with potential use of LEDs on a large scale. Can you clarify? Thanks --

Mike MDec 1 2013 03:09 AM

1. The old 1940's incandescent Christmas lights might have used 7 watts per bulb but the mini incandescent lights that most people use are only about 0.6 watts per bulb.

2. How about trying to put your huge numbers in perspective, "700 million kilowatt hours per year" is 1/10,000th of the US annual electricity consumption and $90Million save is only worth the price of a small combustion turbine used in peaker power plants.

3. Parking lot and street lamps stopped using incandescent lamps in the 1930's when the mercury vapor light was invented. Today They use high intensity discharge lamps such as high pressure sodium vapor or metal halide lamps both of which are significantly more efficient than Light emitting diodes with overall system efficiencies of 90-150 lumens per watt vs LEDs (drivers and all) that see efficiencies of 50-80 lumens per watt.

Reading this article I can tell you have a lot to learn about lighting.

Noah HorowitzDec 2 2013 06:32 PM

Thanks for your comments. Here are a few responses.

1. Regarding end of life disposal - LED bulbs are rated to last 25 years or so when operated 3 hours per day. As LED are essentially a bunch of chips and a metal heat sink typically made of aluminum, they should be treated like any other electronics product and recycled responsibly. Their collection and recycling will be much easier to manage then CFLs which have low levels of mercury inside them.

2. CFL vs LEDs - Both are excelent energy savings choices. Today a 60W replacement CFL costs around $2, when purchased in a multi pack , whereas a LED now costs around $10. The LED will use a little bit less energy, come to full brightness much faster, and last at least 2 times longer than a CFL. Also most LED bulbs will dim. If you don't want to pay up for the LED, by all means buy a CFL.

3. Outdoor street light efficiency - In response to Mike's point, the metric that matters here is the amount of light that actually makes its way to the targeted area. LEDs have superior system efficiency levels than the high intensity discharge lamps you mentioned. For more info on this point go to: http://www.innovativelight.com/led_facts/hid-vs-led-lighting/

Noah

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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