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A new way of thinking about light bulbs — that’s what it’ll take for General Electric’s (s GE) new LED bulb to gain traction with consumers. GE announced this morning that it will start selling an LED bulb by the end of 2010 or in early 2011 that can replace a 40-watt incandescent bulb, but consumes just 9-watts, lasts 17 years (at four hours a day), and will cost between $40 and $50 at retailers.
If consumers are ready to start thinking about the big picture of lighting, the LED bulb could be a deal. It can provide 77 percent energy savings and last 25 times longer than an incandescent bulb. It can also fit into a standard incandescent socket, which is important, because having to buy both LED bulbs and fixtures has been one of the barriers to convincing consumers to buy LEDs. On top of that, the bulb provides 450 lumens, compared to most LED bulbs which commonly produce 350 lumens or less.
But there’s that price point that plagues the LED market. Say you buy an incandescent bulb for between 50 cents and $1 — GE’s LED bulb could cost 50 to 100 times that. You can buy a GE compact fluorescent bulb, or CFL — a bulb that is more efficient than an incandescent — for about $4, which would still cost 10 times less than the LED bulb. The cost still needs to come down for LED bulbs to convince an average consumer.
The lighting market will ultimately move completely to CFLs and LED for lighting, and governments and companies throughout the world have been phasing out incandescents and recently Toshiba was the latest company to cease incandescent production. The U.S. will be phasing out incandescents starting in 2012.
There’s been some innovation in the lighting space from startups, but it’s mostly been focused on the commercial and industrial lighting market which are willing to factor in energy savings over the long term. I’ve been waiting for Silicon Valley startup Superbulbs, which, like GE’s new product, makes LED light bulbs that look and act like traditional incandescent bulbs, to start selling. CREE (a public company but an LED innovator) is providing the LED chip for GE’s new LED bulb.