Do more efficient lights really mean we’ll use less energy?

Gordon Routledge, lighting expert and publisher of Lux Review, tackles another lighting myth

There is some concern in the lighting industry that before 2020 the market will reach a peak value and then start to decline, the reason for this is that LEDs last for too long. Today a huge part of the market is reliant on lamps naturally failing every few thousand hours, or expiring early because we switch them on and off too often. As the uptake of LED retrofit lamps occurs over the next few years and new build becomes dominated by LED, this bread and butter lamp business starts to diminish.

This year I managed to pick up a rather stylish Christmas jumper with embedded colour-changing LED lights”

To counteract this the industry is hoping that Jevon’s Paradox starts to kick in. We’ve mentioned Jevon’s Paradox on multiple occasions in this magazine, but just to recap it suggests that as technology (such as lighting) allows us to use a resource (such as energy) more efficiencly, we actually use more of that resource, not less. In lighting this works on multiple levels. The first is that, as the cost of LED technology falls we start to use more lighting units. We can start to see this now, as LEDs are being shoehorned in to just about anything. Some of these creations may be useful, but some are simply bizarre, like the hair comb which has an  integrated red and blue LED array, claiming to aid hair growth, for those with not much of it in the first place. Philips recently announced a partnership with Desso to produce a carpet with LEDs woven in, which could be used to guide movement around buildings or produce inspirational features. I even managed to pick up a rather stylish Christmas jumper with embedded colour-changing LED lights. It seems that no product can’t be improved by adding a splash of LED technology to it.

Less is more

The second effect of Jevon’s paradox concerns efficiency, and as lighting becomes more efficient we actually start to use more power in absolute terms. I’ve started to notice this recently as I drive to the train station in the dark mornings of winter.

A local transport depot which used to be lit with halogen flood lights with occupancy sensors appears to have gone LED, immediately apparent by the alien autopsy blue white glow visible from miles away and the horrendous glare as you get closer. The sensors are gone, the trucks are all out, the yard is empty but the lights are all blazing away. The reason is they don’t use much power: take down a load of energy-hungry halogen floodlights and pop in a few 20W LED equivalents and you hardly notice the meter spinning, so why not just leave them on to give that added feeling of security. Amazon is already littered with them – you can pick up a 10W LED floodlight for around £10.

Perhaps the most worrying effect yet to come is that, for an extra fiver you can get a version with a remote control, which can change colour. Housing estates across Britain are gearing up for an arms race of LED colour-change technology as the Christmas light battle becomes an year-round phenomenon. Never before in the history of lighting have we had the potential to light so many things, so badly, with so many features, so cheaply.


Follow Gordon on twitter @gordonroutledge