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Publisher's Letter

LEDs will be the universal
light source

Back in the April 2007 issue we had a feature article on the proposed ban on incandescent lights. Introduced by Malcolm Turnbull, then Minister for the Environment and Water Resources, the ban was hasty and ill-conceived. Even then it was only predicted to produce a negligible reduction in Australian greenhouse gas emissions of 800,000 tonnes between 2008-2012 and a somewhat larger reduction of 4 million tonnes per annum by 2015. People were supposed to substitute compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) and it was claimed that household lighting costs would then be reduced by up to 66 percent.

Overall, it was a very bad decision. Few householders could point to any reduction in their electricity consumption due to the installation of CFLs – they have no precise way of measuring it. Instead, they have had to pay substantially more for CFLs whose life has never come up to the claims made for them. Even this month we have a couple of letters of further bad feedback for CFLs. And now, to emphasise how stupid the ban has been, it’s possible to buy mains voltage halogen “incandescents” which are apparently permitted under the on-going ban on incandescent lamps. How ridiculous. While no doubt halogen lamps will be more reliable than CFLs, they are not much more efficient than incandescents. They are considerably more expensive than equivalent incandescent lamps, as well.

To add insult to injury, electricity tariffs have since gone up by more than 60 percent (in Sydney, at least) which would completely obliterate any putative savings in household lighting costs.

The incandescent lamp ban was introduced by the then Liberal government and maintained by the following Labor government – proof that both sides of politics are equally capable of stupid decisions when it comes to any aspect of technology.

At the time of the ban, we commented that LED replacements were not viable for incandescents, being “expensive and not as bright as halogens”. That situation is rapidly changing though, as this month’s article on LED replacements for fluorescent lamps demonstrates. While still expensive in absolute terms, LED replacements for fluorescent tubes are now a viable choice in all new buildings, offices and factories and certainly should be considered for existing installations.

At the same time, LEDs are making inroads into virtually every lighting application. They are now standard in traffic lights and it is only a matter of time before they become universal for street lighting as municipal authorities are already evaluating LED replacements. These authorities will no doubt be driven by the substantial energy savings and likely much longer life of LEDs. LED street lighting should also have the advantage of less light pollution, with far less light scatter into oncoming drivers’ eyes and into the sky.

LED replacements for incandescent lamps are already being produced and again, it is only a matter of time, perhaps a couple of years, before they become the standard light source where previously incandescents were universal. CFLs will be quickly displaced, recognised as a product which never lived up to its claims.

12V halogen lamps are also likely to be displaced by LED equivalents but they still have some way to go, as they are still not quite as bright, are expensive and heat dissipation is still a significant issue. Having said that, 12V LED replacements for halogens are already making inroads where power consumption is an important issue, particularly in boats, recreational vehicles and homes which are not connected to the grid.

Unfortunately, due to perennial lack of government planning to provide for electricity generation, electricity tariffs will continue to rise rapidly and that is without any consideration of the introduction of carbon pricing or an emissions trading scheme. LED replacements cannot come soon enough.

Leo Simpson

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