Are LED lightbulbs priced too high?

Are LED lightbulbs priced too high?

Summary: Amid lackluster results, Philips CEO admits LED pricing is still beyond the reach of many consumers. Do the vendors need to make cuts or let market economics take their course?

SHARE:
TOPICS: Samsung
22

So, we're one month into 2012, the year that the U.S. government mandated the start of energy-efficiency improvements for the common lightbulb -- a move that infuriated certain lawmakers who believed that the changes were too costly for consumers.

Well apparently consumers can take care of themselves, by choosing not to buy the more expensive bulbs.

The most obvious expression of this is the lackluster results of light emitting diode (LED) chip technology pioneers such as Philips. This week, the company reported a loss for the fourth quarter; that follows some rather lackluster results for another LED technology manufacturer, Cree.

Mind you, Philips is a big company and it doesn't stake its entire busines on LEDs. However, as reported by Mark Halper at ZDNet sister site SmartPlanet, the company publicly admitted that the pricing for LEDs focused on consumer applications is still problematic. "The price point for LEDs in the consumer space is still a little bit out of reach," Philips CEO Frans van Houten told analysts on the Philips earnings conference call on Monday.

Later, a Philips spokesperson told SmartPlanet's Halper that the company believes pricing will go down for LED bulbs over the next couple of years because of "product/cost innovation and innovation."

SO, the company isn't exactly predicting a price cut, but it does acknowledge that the price point for LEDs is still too high -- especially if you consider that prices for the most popular "other" incandescent replacement alternative sits somewhere in between the prices for "regular" bulbs.

As I've reported previously, prices for consumer LED lightbulbs are all over the map.

Some of the Philips 17-watt bulbs cost up to $40 each, depending on where you buy them. The most popular Philip 60-watt equivalent bulb (the AmbientLED 12.5W) runs about $25.

That's pretty expensive, except when you consider that (in theory) you really only have to place these bulbs once every 15 to 25 years. (Although we don't really know that, do we, because they haven't been around that long yet.) How many times do you replace incandescents during the course of a year? If you do the math, LEDs wind up being about the same cost as the traditional alternative if you consider that you don't have to replace them as often and that they can save at least 25 percent of the energy you would use with an incandescent bulb, but most people see the upfront pricetag and balk.

Philips isn't the only game in town, so I did a little poking around to see where prices currently stand with several companies you have heard of and one company that might not be on your radar. Here is a snapshot:

  • Samsung's A19 bulb, which is considered the replacement for the 40-watt incandescent, is priced at about $20 through Lowe's. Some of its models to replace 75-watt halogen bulbs, however, cost upwards of $60 each. Here's some more information on the Samsung series.
  • Lighting Science Group is another company that is making strides in LEDs; it is working on a 60-watt bulb replacement that could come in around $15. The bulb isn't available yet in the United States, but it is being sold in emerging markets.
  • The GE Energy Smart series encompasses a number of different incandescent replacement formats, including compact fluorescent bulbs and LEDs. Its current A19 40-watt LED offering is around $46 if you buy it online.

I have to admit, even though I probably think about energy efficiency more than my average neighbor, even I haven't splurged on an LED replacement yet. That's mainly because I usually buy my lightbulbs at the grocery store and haven't really had an opportunity, yet. Most of the LEDs currently seem to be offered by the hardware and home improvement retailers, such as Lowe's or Home Depot. But anything about $25 would definitely make me balk, too. Even though, intuitively, I know that that math points in LED's favor.

[poll id="237"]

Related stories:

Topic: Samsung

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.

Talkback

22 comments
Log in or register to join the discussion
  • It's not the price...

    It's the quality. They need to have the same color and responsiveness. I recently bought some to replace my outdoor floodlights. They were perfect for that because I didn't care about the color and didn't mind that they took a couple of minutes to "warm up" to the brightness they were advertised to be. For indoor? Forget it. I wouldn't use them if they were free.

    I'm sure they will improve, and when they get better I'll consider them again. Let the market decide, not the government.
    rynning
    • Correct

      @rynning I bought two LED reflector style bulbs a few months ago, to replace halogen reflectors in ceiling cans that I have throughout the house. They were around $25 ea. The halogens have beautiful light with great color, but I have to replace them about every year or two, and of course they cost me more energy. So it would be great to have LED's and I would be quite willing to make a wise investment and spend $20 each to replace about 12 bulbs. IF that is they were really awesome.

      The ones I have are a bit too dim (about like a 40W incand.) and the color is too cool and sterile. They come on instantly, work with my dimmer fine, but the color just doesn't work. It's about as appealing as a cool white fluorescent - good for a factory or your garage maybe, but not for your dining table, kitchen, living room.

      I conclude that I will pay $20 for the things but only when they are pretty much perfect: excellent color, equiv. brightness of a 50-60W incan., instant on, smooth dimming, long life, super efficient. If these things are lacking they darn well better be a lot closer to $10.
      ArtInvent
      • RE: Are LED lightbulbs priced too high?

        @ArtInvent

        You must check the color temperature before you buy. Warm incandescent is between 2000 and 3000 K. Halogens run around 3000 K. Phillips makes LEDs in 2700 and 3000 K.
        msalzberg
    • RE: Are LED lightbulbs priced too high?

      @rynning There should be NO warm up time. LEDs "warm up" far faster than incandescents. CFLs are another story. Also you have to make sure that the LEDs you buy are rated for 2700K color temperature to match incandescents. My understanding is that LEDs @ 2700K compare much more favorably to incandescent than an equivalent CFL that is rated for 2700K and they can dim way better too. I hear that the cheaper ones don't sort their LEDs as carefully and so you could get a different spectrum than advertised.
      DevGuy_z
      • RE: Are LED lightbulbs priced too high?

        @DevGuy_z instead of "I hear"...perhaps having first hand experience would be best when sharing an opinion. Side by side comparisons of 2700K LED's and Incandecents you will find differences. None of the affordable LED's have the warmth of traditional lamp sources. More importantly, LED's do not "color shift" when they are dimmed. Humans prefer and are used to observing the light becoming warmer still when dimmed. Most LED's are not dimmable and the ones that do, do not dim smoothly, nor do they dim much beyond 20%<br><br>LED's absolutly have their place, however it is still very early in their development for them to be a good choice for most general lighting residential applications. Good for cove lighting, some accent lighting, landscape, etc. <br><br>Classic example of "you are never really wrong, just early".
        Tom Doherty
  • Prices will only drop as volume builds... slowly

    There's nothing about light bulbs that locks you in to a particular brand, and there isn't much in the way of brand loyalty. Most people will switch between GE, Sylvania, and Samsung over a nickel. There is therefore no incentive for manufacturers to practice "learning curve pricing" in the hopes of garnering a high market share now that will someday be very profitable. Prices will come down very slowly as volume builds, unless there is some breakthrough innovation in the way the bulbs are manufactured.
    Robert Hahn
  • RE: Are LED lightbulbs priced too high?

    As rynning said. How do a make a 15 year purchase when I can't tell how they compare to my current lights? Lumens, color, etc... are not on all bulbs. This business where everyone goes by wattage equivalence is nuts. That tells me what will happen to my power bill but not if I can get dressed and not look like a clown or see well enough to shave.

    And for those of us who bought nice looking fixtures with exposed bulbs over the years, are we supposed to spend a few $100 to $400 for a new kitchen fixture so the "tricorder probe" looking thing will be behind a frosted globe instead of exposed? Replacing all my nice fixtures sure makes the energy savings payback period look like a 50 year plan.

    Or I could go with CFLs but of course over the past 10 years I put all my fan / light combo fixtures through out the house on remote dimmers so I could save money on power and adjust the lighting to meet the needs of the moment. So scratch that idea.
    raleighthings
  • Couple problems

    1) Too expensive. I can buy a couple cases of incandescent bulbs for one LED.

    2) Marketed terribly. I have never seen them on display, turned on. So you want me to spend several hundred trying them out? Pass. Want me to even consider. Have them on next to incandescent bulbs.

    3) You're asking a change equivalent (IMHO) to redecorating ones house. The light IS different, things look different. I recently switched my family room back to incandescent bulbs from the aging CFL bulbs. HUGE difference. You only do damage when you try to pawn off the story "It's not different".

    It's like that debate between US and Mexican Coke. For years Coca Cola maintained there was no difference in taste between US and Mexican Coke. Then they did a taste test finding US residents prefer US Coke 7 to 1, then they said "see we told you US Coke tastes BETTER" no you told us they taste the SAME, they don't taste the SAME. I can afford Mexican Coke if I like it better and I can afford to light my house with incandescent bulbs. The light from incandescent vs. CFL vs. LED is NOT the same, so if you want me to really change how my house is lit up tell me how I will actually LIKE the newer lights.
    oncall
  • CFLs are good enough

    if you are concerned about energy.
    The problem I have with CFLs is that they last far less than the advertised life. I would not want to find out the hard way how long a LED lasts.
    The Linux Geek
    • RE: Are LED lightbulbs priced too high?

      @The Linux Geek CFLs work best, from a lifetime perspective, when left running. They don't last as long if you turn them on and off frequently. And if you leave them running continuously you run out their hours quicker. So sometimes it is really more a perception issue. I have had CFLs last for 2-3 years running as outdoor lights where they run nearly continuously - that is a lot of run time LEDs are not affected by on/off cycles. LEDs match incandescent light better than CFLs and the dimmable ones dim better than CFLs.
      DevGuy_z
    • RE: Are LED lightbulbs priced too high?

      @The Linux Geek - The initial CFL's introduced 8 or 9 years ago were much more expensive but had better quality control than current production, perhaps. This is probably due to mass production since the earliest versions were largely hand/labor intensive, not highly automated. I've had a couple premature CFLfailures the past couple years but for the most part, they outlast incandescents at least 5 to 1.
      SGVA
  • Ecosmart 40w LED $9.99

    From the Home Depot.

    Look great, should last a long time, and seem to be more powerful than the 40w rating would suggest.
    itguy10
  • RE: Are LED lightbulbs priced too high?

    I don't see how they can be so expensive. I remember Radio Shack used to sell just the LEDs in packs of 10 for under a buck or so. How did this technology get so expensive?
    Loverock Davidson-
    • RE: Are LED lightbulbs priced too high?

      @Loverock Davidson- Very different, the most difficult technology is producing a bright white that is pleasing to the eye. The other issue is getting the intensity required.
      DevGuy_z
  • RE: Are LED lightbulbs priced too high?

    You can still buy those. But they are basically light dots. Not illumination sources.
    raleighthings
  • RE: Are LED lightbulbs priced too high?

    ugggghhhh.....

    Still so little factual info out there. Reality is that Halogen replacements for incandescents, last longer and have great color and use less energy than incandescents. They also replace without any issues that LED's or CFL's can cause...they dim very well and with standard dimmers. The lighting industry is doing a very poor job of communicating that the 100 watt incandescent is the only lamp being eliminated in 2012 and that it has been replaced for YEARS by Halogen versions....be nice if the journalist would be informed instead of mostly repeating sound bites
    Tom Doherty
    • RE: Are LED lightbulbs priced too high?

      @Tom Doherty
      My past experience with Halogen bulbs is that they get VERY hot so I've been reluctant to use them, particularly in hallway ceiling lights and so forth. Is that still an issue?
      SGVA
  • RE: Are LED lightbulbs priced too high?

    I'll continue to buy compact fluorescents until the price of LED bulbs comes down and offer "warmer" colors. The compact fluorescents in my front porch entrance lights lasted 5 1/2 years before one finally died! Now that's good performance since replacing them is a real pain requiring a ladder. Incandescent bulbs would only last 6 to 8 months in those outside fixtures. I'll only switch to LED's in those fixtures when they come down in price and perform as well as the CFL's. By the way, I'm sick of hearing people complain about the governemnt mandate. This law was enacted to save electricity folks! Incandescent bulbs use a ton of energy. The new law forced manufacturers to be innovative again. They got lazy selling crappy, energy guzzling incandescent light bulbs. Now most (smart) manufacturers are investing in the production of energy efficient LED, CFL and energy efficient variants of the old incandescent bulbs. That's a good thing! One area that does need rapid innovation though is dimmable bulbs at reasonable prices. I'll continue to use incandescent 40W and 60W bulbs in my dimmer equipped hanging light fixtures and bathroon lights until that happens.
    SGVA
    • RE: Are LED lightbulbs priced too high?

      @SGVA you should check out dimmers. Dimming saves energy. Dimming an incandescent or halogen 10% doubles lamp life. dimming 20% Quadruples lamp life. A 1500 hour halogen can last 6000 hours....my front porch lights have lasted over 5 years....look warm and are much cheaper than a CFL.

      It is hard to get all of the facts in a sound bite world.
      Tom Doherty
      • RE: Are LED lightbulbs priced too high?

        @Tom Doherty - Yes, I fully agree with you regarding the advantages of dimmers. The small candelabra-type light bulbs in my dining room hanging light are over fixture 20 years old, due to the use of the dimmer I installed when I moved in! I'm still curious about my question regarding the heat generated by Halogen bulbs. Is that still a concern? Their glass envelope tends to be much thicker than traditional incandescent bulbs so I wonder if that is due to how hot they get. Is this still an issue with Halogen bulbs? CFL's and incandescent get hot, too but not nearly as hot as the Halogens I bought several years ago. IE-I'm afraid to use them inside. By the way, I am not associated with the lighting industry. My comments are as a consumer.
        SGVA