Jun 302014

If there were Seven Wonders in the 17th century, electricity would likely be one of them. Discovered by an Englishman William Gilbert in 1600, it has become of increasing importance each century, and today our standard of living is completely dependant on it. So integral in electricity to modern society, some may even consider it the fifth element of life; an addition to to classical earth, water, air, and fire.

Electricity has rapidly spread in its uses since 19th century with the invention of derivative technologies like fibre optic cable, telephones, computers, televisions and of course, the light bulb.


Figure 1. The four ancient elements (from Wikipedia)

The following graph shows data from US Department of Energy (US-DoE). In 2011, the world consumed around 20,000 billion kWh (kilo watt hours) of electricity. The US DoE predicts that this number will not decrease anytime soon, with population expansion and the development of electrical-thirsty industrial sector being the main reasons.

Global electricity usage grew nearly 18% from its 2007 level at 17,000 billion kWh. The United States alone consumed nearly 4000 billion kWh that same year. Here in Australia we consumed 200 to 220 billion kWh of electricity each year during the years between 2007 to 2011. The rising population rate is regarded as the major driving factor to such high energy consumption.

Figure 2. Total global electricity consumption

Figure 2. Total global electricity consumption

According to the US Dept of Energy, about 461 billion kilowatthours (kWh) of electricity were used for lighting by the residential and commercial sectors in US in 2012. This is about 12% of total U.S. electricity consumption. In Australia, the average household’s spending on energy was $99 per week in 2012, according to the Australia Bureau of Statistics. About $40 of this was spent on electricity and/or gas. However households with energy sourced only from electricity spent less, at around $30 per week.

A survey on residential lighting conducted by Australian Government in 2013 found that kitchen and living room had the highest average usage in hours per weekday. The lowest lighting usage was in garage at 0.7 hours per weekday. Based on the surveyed homes, the peak usage hours were between 7.00 to 8.00 o’clock in the morning and 6.00 to 9.00 p.m. in the evening.

The type of lights chosen by a household affects the amount of electricity used.

Fluorescent lights, compact fluorescents (CFLs), and now LED lights, use considerably less energy and last longer than tungsteen-wired traditional lightbulbs. According to the above-mentioned survey, over 50% of all homes in Australia have turned to using fluorescent lighting. This means that Australians are open to new ways to save on their energy bills.

Most of the surveyed households agreed that they try to reduce more on lighting than with other electrical appliances, since they couldn’t as easily avoid turning on their heaters during cold winter days, or airconditioners during summer etc. Because of this they are always looking for other ways they can reduce their consumption.

LED’s Savings

LED or light–emitting diodes, are basically semiconductors that produce visible light when an electrical charge is passed through them. Used often for indicator lamps for electronic devices, replacing small conventional bulbs in the 60’s, LED applications continue to increase. It seems like only yesterday when LED were introduced as a component of the common television remote control. Since then LED usage has rapidly expanded across all forms of electronics which emit a low intensity visible-light wave. These days they are even used for car brake and tail lights and at traffic stop lights.

As LED semiconductor technology continues to improve, cost have begun to decline. LED lights and panels now come in smaller dimensions but thousand times more output power than when they first entered the market.

These days we have access to a wide variety of LED lighting options. The website of Top Frog Energy, an Australian LED retailer, gives a good example of the many indoor and outdoor LED lighting options available.  As LEDs become more popular and factories are increasing their production capacity and reducing or even stopping completely their production of conventional bulbs. Because of this, end customers like us get to have more choices about the technology that offers some of the following benefits:

  • Lower operating temperatures to reduce fire hazards
  • Longer lifespan (up to 50,000 operating hours) which makes them more cost effective
  • Mercury-free (unlike CFLs) which more they are more environmental-friendly and safer for your health
  • No ultra violet ligth and and no flicker which is better for our eyes
  • Bright and clean light which increase visibility

Because of all these benefits many adapters of new technologies are switching from conventional light bulbs and CFLs to using LEDs in there home. The benefits of making the change don’t stop here however. Because of the almost unlimited potential of LED lighting, many companies are still working on newer and even better technologies that use LEDs.

One small company based in Brisbane, LED Arts have developed a series of LED downlights that have replaceable chip technology. This development is being hailed as the next big improvement in LEDs, because when the diodes eventually wear out (if they don’t outlast you) you can keep the entire unit and just replace the chip containing the diode. This saves money because you don’t need to buy a whole new unit, and it’s also a great way to cut down on waste as well. Currently all lightbulbs are disposed of in entirety any time the lighting component of it wears out.

Hopefully this LED downlight technology will be adapted to work across other forms of lighting once it has proven to be a success in the marketplace. Many other companies are also working on various new technological advancements for future LED designs. All of which points to a very bright future for LEDs. So next time you’re out looking for a replacement lightbulb, consider getting an LED and next time you’ll have more money in your wallet and you probably won’t even need to make that trip.