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The NYT Green Blog recently cited a RAND Corporation report on how digital subscriptions curb carbon emissions for newspaper readers. The report, commissioned by the DOE, sought out to address the way people create solutions to our energy problems.
What stands in the way of the most effective energy improvements is the backwards approach that some innovators take: They focus too narrowly on improving existing technologies, rather than rethinking technologies and habits from the ground up. Much as digital subscriptions are transforming newspaper reading habits while reducing about 150lbs of greenhouse gases a year as a side benefit (and, as pointed out in the comment section, vice versa), LED lights are changing the way we illuminate spaces, while saving energy and employing a completely different technology from the traditional incandescent bulb.
A simple analog lies in the halogen bulb. Like Edison’s original design, halogen bulbs are filament-based. A tungsten filament is encapsulated in a small amount of halogen gas (usually iodine or bromine), which cycles around and redeposits tungsten onto the filament (rather than onto the outer glass bulb). This increases the clarity of the light, and prolongs the lifespan. The result is a slightly more efficient, longer-lasting incandescent bulb.
While the halogen was a great improvement on the incandescent bulb, it doesn’t offer the most lumens per Watt because it’s still using electricity to heat up a coil. Light Emitting Diodes are solid-state, which means they do not operate on filaments and gas. A current running through an LED causes the material to naturally emit light; therefore an LED bulb gives us the most direct, efficient use of energy transmitted as illumination.
Solid state technology also flips lighting standards with 30,000+ hour lifespans which were previously unimaginable, and with more visual effects capable through digital LED controllers. So during this Earth Month we tip our hats to Nick Holonyak, the “father” of the first LED for practical lighting applications, and to all energy innovators who make waves by thinking not backwards, but from the ground up.