The L Prize: A New Look at an Old Bulb

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These days with CFLs (compact fluorescent lightbulbs), and LEDs (light emitting diodes) and everything else, it seems hard (or maybe just taboo) to remember a time when we used something as inefficient as the standard 60-watt incandescent lightbulb. Yet, they still make up 50% of the market share and the US Energy Department wants companies to take a new look at this old standard. For whomever can come up with a highly-efficient yet comparable alternative they win $10 million, and that's just the tip of the iceberg. Turns out, a Dutch company may have just the answer, reports the New York Times.The L Prize, as it is named, was launched by the US Energy Department to get companies to come up with a useful, yet highly energy efficient alternative to the standard 60-watt lightbulb. Some of the current alternatives, like LEDs have limited uses and are still quite expensive. A good alternative, according to the contest, would be both inexpensive and versatile.

While $10 million might sound like a lot of money, the real jackpot is all of the government contracts that could be had by the successful winner. The 60-watt incandescent represents 50% of all lightbulbs sold in the US, roughly 425 million each year. The Energy Department wants to find something that is equally as good that consumers will purchase and like enough to stick with. Should such a solution exist, the US could save an estimated 5.6 million metric tons of carbon dioxide each year and save enough energy to power 17.4 million homes.

Philips, a Dutch company, has come up with a prototype that uses 1/6 the energy of a standard incandescent and meets all of the other requirements for the competition. Thus far, Philips is the first and only entrant thus far and it will take a year to complete testing on the bulb to determine whether they are the official winner. In total, they delivered over 2,000 prototypes to the government for testing.

So just what can this prototype accomplish? The winning bulb must meet the same amount and color as a normal 60-watt but only use 10 watts of electricity. It also must last 25 times as long as a normal lightbulb (roughly 25,000 hours) and be at least 75% produced in the United States. The Energy Department wants to get the light right this time around instead of doing what it did with the compact fluorescents, which it considers a huge mistake. Initially no standards were set, so a wide range of bulbs flooded the market and consumers were annoyed at the lack of color, the delay in light, and a variety of other things. This time around the Department wants to make sure they get it right the first time. The testing for this prize has already eliminated about 25 LED type bulbs that didn't do what they claimed or were just an inferior alternative.

Also on the horizon: General Electric plans to introduce a component that allows consumers to convert regular light holders to LED fixtures. The Energy Department is also awarding $5 million to the creator of an LED reflector lamp and a "21st Century Lamp," though the specifications have not been established yet.

Thus far, only the price of the bulb is the final hurdle. To help with this, the Energy Department has gotten okays from 27 utility companies to help subsidize some of the cost, and it's hoped that this LED-type bulb, when factoring in longevity, will compare cost-wise with CFLs today. According to Philips, "over the long term, we can absolutely get the cost down to the $20 to $25 range." :New York Times
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