The Associated Press reports that the Phillips LED light bulb that won the government’s L Prize—a $10 million contest to replace the traditional incandescent bulb—will go on sale as of Earth Day with a full retail price of $60. Yes, that’s $60 per bulb, not $60 for an entire house full of bulbs.
Phillips is discounting the price for bulbs purchased online to $50 apiece, but still, that sounds like a lot for a single stinking light bulb. The average U.S. home uses 45 light bulbs, so replacing all of them would run $2,250. Yikes.
In a Washington Post story published in March, one home-improvement center staffer offered these insights on the hot new Phillips bulb:
“I don’t want to say it’s exorbitant, but if a customer is only looking at the price, they could come to that conclusion,” said Brad Paulsen, merchant for the light-bulb category at Home Depot, the largest U.S. seller of light bulbs. “This is a Cadillac product, and that’s why you have a premium on it.”
As far as I know, the mainstream public hasn’t been clamoring for a “premium” light bulb. In fact, the push for more energy-efficient bulbs has brought about “light bulb anxiety” as some people have resorted to hoarding traditional bulbs before they’re removed from the marketplace for good. Consumers can be convinced by marketers that they want all sorts of premium products, but the “Cadillac of light bulbs”? That seems like a stretch, especially if it costs $50 or $60.
Nonetheless, a crunching of the numbers shows that you can pay 50 times more for bulbs upfront and still easily wind up saving a ton of money in the long run. An infographic accompanying the main WaPo story revealed that over a 10-year span, using traditional bulbs would cost $228 (for bulbs and energy). Screw in a Phillips bulb, though, and you’d pay a total of just $83 for energy and the bulb—a bulb that, mind you, would be less than halfway through its projected lifespan.
The math is even more in favor of the Phillips bulb when you factor in the incentives and deals the manufacturer is negotiating with utilities, which are expected to bring the price down by $20 or $30.
Let’s hope that Phillips’ new bulb performs better than some of the previous LED lights that have gone on sale to the public. LED bulbs are supposed to be functional for 20 years or more, but it’s problematic to actually conduct a 20-year test before bringing the product to the marketplace. To do a 20-year test, it’s helpful to have 20 actual years handy. That sort of timeline doesn’t work in this case. The Phillips bulb won the government competition after “18 months of intensive field, lab, and product testing to meet the rigorous requirements of the L Prize competition,” according to the Department of Energy. While “rigorous,” the testing was 18 and a half years shy of two decades.
Consumer groups are sure to keep a close eye on the new Phillips bulb to see if they provide good light for as long as the manufacturers and the government claims. Last summer, Consumer Reports released the results of its own tests on various other LED light bulbs, and some went dead before hitting the 3,000-hour mark, well short of the 25,000 hours they’re supposed to survive.