Why LED Lighting is the Better Choice in 2020

People are creatures of habit and oftentimes, venturing into something new seems intimidating, especially when we talk about technology. LED lighting is not a new concept, but as shown in Figure 1, the technology has been taking off in recent years and is currently experiencing its fastest growth in history.

bar chart led lighting vs other

Fig. 1 - LED lighting vs other lighting technologies

Early adopters paid a lot more at the checkout for LED lights than we do today in 2020, but the value argument made was as valid then as it is now; LED lighting offers lower energy costs for the same light output, and much longer bulb lifetime compared to alternative light sources. These two properties combine to create an unstoppable lighting revolution that’s now promoted by governments, electric utilities and consumers alike.

Still not sure if LED lighting is the better choice in 2020? We challenge you to read our arguments and data presented below.

How are LED lights different from traditional lights?

Incandescent and halogen lights create light by heating the filament inside the bulb until it glows white hot. 90% of the energy they use is wasted to generate heat.

Compact fluorescent (CFL) bulbs use only 30% of the energy they require on generating heat. However, with CFLs, an electric current is driven through a tube, creating an electric plasma that contains argon and mercury vapor. Mercury is a toxic material which requires special care when disposing and can pose a safety hazard if the bulb breaks.

LED lights use less than 10% of the energy consumed by incandescents, have no critical disposal properties and last 30 to 50 times longer than competing light bulbs. In addition, they are primarily created from shatterproof materials so there is no concern of breakage. It’s safe to say they provide the safest and most efficient lighting option in the market today. Most of the energy loss from LED lighting occurs in the electronic circuits used to connect them directly to 110V AC outlets. The electronics is typically mounted on a metal platform known as a heatsink which helps dissipate what heat there is. Residential LED lights are usually cool to the touch as a result.

What Consumers Need to Know

Consumer knowledge of long life, low energy consumption, and therefore low costs is a great start, but with an increasing number of LED lighting products being introduced to the market, what else do businesses and residential consumers need to know to make an informed buying decision? 

How efficient are LED lights?

The best LED lights on the market exceed the efficiency of CFL and HID light sources by far. In most cases, they can reduce energy consumption by up to 90%. LED lights are the most efficient light source available today.

Before diving into specifics, let’s break down what is meant by electrical efficiency. This is a widely misunderstood term that’s important to understand. Light bulbs, in common with every electrical device on the market are labeled by the electric power they require, not the electrical energy they consume. The unit of electric power is the Watt (W) and power consumption is defined as the amount of energy consumed over a given time period. Our electric bills are based on energy used per hour, using the famous kWh (kilo-Watt hour) unit.

For example, a 60W incandescent bulb obviously consumes 60 Watts. The CFL equivalent uses between 13 and 15 Watts and the LED equivalent consumes 6-8 Watts. The difference in energy consumption and therefore cost of use is stark when we examine typical use of a lightbulb for 2 hours per day over a year.

Comparing Incandescent, Halogen, CFL, and LED

60W Incandescent 43W
"Efficient" Incandescent
60W Standard  43W Halogen 60W Standard 43W Halogen

Energy USD Saved (%)

~25% ~75% ~65% ~75%-80% ~72%

Yearly Energy Cost*

$4.80 $3.50 $1.20 $1.00
Lifespan (h) 1000 h 1000 to 3000 h 10,000 h 25,000 h

Fig. 2 - comparing lighting types & energy costs

How long do LED lights last?

High-quality LED lights have an expected lifetime of up to 50,000 hours. Just to compare, average incandescent lights last up to 1,000 hours, average CFL lights between 8,000 and 10,000, and fluorescent lights can last up to 30,000 hours. 

How much money can you save if you convert to LED?

If you’re planning to switch to LED lights, you’re probably eager to learn about the cost benefits. While this can vary widely based on the LED products you choose and your application, we created a table comparing the average lifespan, use of electricity, cost of electricity and the total operational cost of traditional bulbs compared to LED lights so you can get an idea.

Here we compared LED lights, CFL lights, and incandescent lights. The difference is obvious. Switching from incandescents to LEDs in a home will save $278 per bulb over 23 years. If we take into consideration that the average home has 40 light bulbs, this amounts to $11,120 USD in 23 years!

Incandescent CFL LED
Average Lifespan 1,200 hours 15,000 hours 45,000 hours
Watts used 60W (0.06kW) 14W (0.014kW) 7W (0.007kW)
Number of bulbs needed for 45.000h of use 36 3 1
Total purchase price of bulbs for 23 years $54 $12 $15
kW/h of electricity used over 45000h 0.06kW*45000=2700 0.014kW*45000=630 0.007kW*45000=315
Total cost of electricity (45.000h at $0.12 per kWh) $270 $63 $31.5
Total Operational cost over 23 years $324 $75 $46.5

Fig. 3 - breakdown of electricity costs over 23 years

With CFL lights, the difference isn’t so dramatic, but savings would still amount to over $1,100 over the time period. The real reasons to move away from CFLs are less related to lifetime costs and more to their lack of flexibility compared to LEDs. CFLs are difficult to dim, have no color control and come in limited warmth factors. Bear in mind, there may also eventually be higher disposal costs for broken CFLs as LEDs become more prevalent.

Do LED lights generate the same light output?

The unit for measuring light output is the Lumen, but because of the strong correlation between traditional bulb power ratings and the light produced, the accepted unit for incandescent bulb light output has been Watts. Thus, the higher the bulb’s power rating, the brighter it would be. However, as new lighting technologies enter the market, the correlation between their power consumption in Watts and their light output is no longer valid. In the case of LED lights, a 10W light bulb generates the same or greater light output as a 60W incandescent. That brings our focus back on Lumens to measure brightness. The bulb’s power rating in Watts can now only be used to compare expected energy consumption between lighting options.

What are Lumens?

Since the Watt is no longer the unit we can use to predict how much light we can expect from a bulb, there is lots of confusion in the stores and online markets about what bulb to use to replace 60W and 100W bulbs in the home, and higher wattage bulbs in commercial parking lots etc. The specified unit of brightness is now Lumens and while it’s initially daunting to understand the need for the seemingly endless brightness options in the typical hardware store, getting back to basics makes it pretty easy to figure out what’s needed.

A great rule of thumb to use is there are approximately 300 Lumens of light output per 20W of incandescent power. So, an equivalent LED would have 300L for a 20W bulb, 600L for 40W, 900L for 60W and 1,600L for 100W.

Power 20 40 60 100
Lumens 300 600 900 1,600

Fig. 4 - incandescent light output in lumens

What is Lumens per Watt?

LED technology is evolving at such a rapid rate that another unit of lighting efficiency has begun to make it onto manufacturers specification sheets. Light Efficacy, the efficiency of generating light from a power source, is an age-old spec made redundant by strong correlation to Watts in the age of incandescent light bulbs. As LED technology improves year after year however, the efficiency with which light is produced from the base semiconductor material also improves. Consumers now have the choice to purchase more light for a given power input, further reducing individual or corporate carbon footprint associated with lighting. The term Lumens per Watt (L/W) shows the efficiency with which each bulb converts electric energy to light energy. Incandescent lights normally produce 10-12 lumens per watt, CFL lights: 50-60 lumens per watt and LED lights start at 70 lumens per watt. Many commercial LED lights are capable of generating 120 Lumens/Watt or more!

Lumens Incandescent Wattage CFL Wattage LED Wattage
400 - 500 40W 8 - 12W 6-7W
650 - 800 60W 13 - 18W 7 - 10W
1000-1400 75W 18 - 22W 12 - 13W
1450 - 1700 100W 23 - 30W 14 - 20W
2700+ 150W 30 - 55W 25 - 28W

Fig. 5 - lumens per watt

What is CRI?

Another important indicator of the quality of light is the Color-Rendering Index (CRI). This is a measurement of how a light source renders the color of objects, compared to an ideal or natural lighting source. CRI is measured on a scale between 0 and 100, with 100 representing natural daylight. This means that the higher CRI rating gives a truer color rendering and appearance. Some LED lights even have CRI values of 90 or higher.

High-CRI LED lights are a smart choice for industrial and commercial lighting or office spaces since poor lighting can often lead to headaches and eyestrain. LED technology provides a crisp, bright light which comes close to the natural daylight. This can lead to a better mood and morale, especially on dark, winter days.

Are LED lights environment-friendly?

LED lights are, without doubt, the most efficient light source of today with a positive impact on the environment. If we assume the lights in the following example are in a typical home and the power generated comes from non-renewable sources, we can show the difference in net carbon dioxide released to the atmosphere. Let’s assume there are 30 light bulbs in the home. If those lights are LED, the average yearly emissions of CO2 will be 451 pounds. Meanwhile, the yearly emissions of CO2 from 30 CFL lights would be 1051 pounds, and from 30 incandescent lights - 4500 pounds. This means that by switching to LED, CO2 emissions associated with lighting can be decreased by a staggering 95%.

Environmental Impact Incandescent CFL LED
CO2 emissions per year (30 bulbs) 4500 lb/year 1051 lb/year 451 lb/year

Fig. 6 - CO2 emissions from different types of lighting

Where can LED lights be used?

LED lights are versatile and can be used in almost any application where incandescent or fluorescent lights were once used. It’s really simple to “retrofit” existing fixtures for LED lights in any application, since LED lights come in different variations, from durable, waterproof, outdoor area lights to ambient under-cabinet kitchen lighting, replacing traditional lights with LED lights.

Are there any rebates or incentives if you use LED?

In the US, there are a variety of incentives being offered by energy utilities and local, state and federal governments. Consult the DSIRE website (Database of State Incentives for Renewals and Efficiency) for a comprehensive list of incentives available in your region.

Additionally, the Energy Efficient Commercial Building Deduction, known simply as Section 179D of The Energy Policy Act of 2005 allows tax deductions based on the energy efficiency of commercial buildings. The highest possible deduction is $1.80 per square foot. The deduction involves new commercial and municipal buildings, retrofitted buildings, and LEED buildings.


>> How long do LED lights really last?