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Technology Columnist Sheds Light On New Bulbs

Jun 12, 2013
Originally published on June 13, 2013 5:53 am

Transcript

LINDA WERTHEIMER, HOST:

Buying a light bulb it's not as simple as it used to be. You're not just choosing between 100 watts and 75 watts, between three-way and one-way. Now you can choose light bulbs that will save you quite a bit of money and use less power. There are now bulbs that don't get hot, and you can pick a bulb that might last longer than you do.

Technology columnist Rich Jaroslovsky, at Bloomberg News, has been trying out the new bulbs and will enlighten us. Good morning, Rich.

RICH JAROSLOVSKY: Good morning.

WERTHEIMER: Rich, a few years ago, CFLs - compact fluorescent bulbs - seemed to be the main alternative. But now, there seems to be another switch towards LED. What is driving that? What are consumers telling us?

JAROSLOVSKY: Consumers are telling us, I think, that they have not been pleased with the experience with compact fluorescents. The quality of the light, especially the early ones, have kind of a bluish tint to it. They take time to warm up. They have trace elements of mercury so if you break one, it's kind of a big deal. So consumers have not been thrilled with the experience, so far.

WERTHEIMER: Does the LED improve that experience?

JAROSLOVSKY: The LED, in a lot of ways, is a superior technology. It doesn't have the warm-up issues. It doesn't have some of the toxicity issues. The big drawback, though, has been the price.

WERTHEIMER: Now, I have seen a 40-watt version - which you wrote about - made by a company that I never heard of called Cree. That sells for around 10 bucks. And you seem to think that it might be a game changer.

JAROSLOVSKY: Well, it's getting to that sweet spot. At $10, it's still considerably more expensive than a compact fluorescent, but it doesn't have a lot of the issues compact fluorescents have. It lasts longer, although both compact fluorescents and LEDs lasts so long, I think you begin to say, well, the difference between nine years and 16 years doesn't really make a difference to me today.

(LAUGHTER)

WERTHEIMER: Not many people live in a house for 16 years.

JAROSLOVSKY: No. And this, essentially, makes the concept of light bulbs burning out obsolete.

WERTHEIMER: Now, I want lighting that makes me look good. I don't want to look like the late Linda Wertheimer in my own house. Does this light bulb - does that work?

JAROSLOVSKY: Well, you do have companies like Philips - another light bulb manufacturer - that makes a system called Hue H-U-E, which you can change the colors using an iPhone or Android app on your smartphone. So you can, if you want to give yourself a rosy glow, you can simply adjust the lighting.

WERTHEIMER: So these two companies that you mentioned - Philips and Cree - are sort of leading the way. But presumably, everybody will arrive at the same general area soon.

JAROSLOVSKY: I think that that's the case. There are a lot of other companies, including very big companies - like General Electric, like 3M - that are in this space or interested in this space, and so I kind of expect we will see a lot more of these, particularly as the energy efficiency standards for traditional incandescent bulbs kick in.

WERTHEIMER: Do you imagine that people are going out and buying, you know, dozens of these bulbs and putting them up all over the house, or have they really arrived in that way yet?

JAROSLOVSKY: Well, my guess right now is that there are probably people who were going out and buying dozens of incandescent bulbs, to stockpile them against the day when they disappear from the market.

WERTHEIMER: Guilty.

JAROSLOVSKY: But...

(LAUGHTER)

JAROSLOVSKY: But in part, I think that's because the experience with the compact fluorescents has not been wonderful. I think as more people experience the light bulbs like the Cree and the other LED bulbs, I think some of that resistance will go away.

WERTHEIMER: Rich Jaroslovsky is the technology columnist for Bloomberg News. Rich, thank you very much for joining us.

JAROSLOVSKY: Thank you so much for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.