Ranked #33 on Drawdown’s list of climate solutions, using residential LED lighting to replace incandescent and fluorescent bulbs could cut greenhouse gas emissions by 7.8 gigatons between now and 2050. In addition to its climate benefits, LEDs would save roughly US$1.7 trillion in energy costs over the same 30-year span.
“LEDs work like solar panels in reverse, converting electrons to photons instead of the other way around,” Drawdown explains. “They use 90% less energy than incandescent bulbs for the same amount of light, and half as much as compact fluorescents, without toxic mercury. On top of that, an LED bulb will last much longer than either other type.”
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LED (light-emitting diode) lighting has been in use since the 1970s, but it wasn’t until the 1990s, when three Japanese scientists finally generated blue light from a diode, that it became possible to create the white light people need for home and business use. In 2014, recognizing the potential for LED lighting to dramatically cut energy consumption and improve living conditions worldwide, the Nobel committee awarded Isamu Akasaki, Hiroshi Amano, and Shuji Nakamura the Nobel Prize for Physics.
Drawdown predicts widespread global adoption of LED lighting by 2050, estimating that 90% of homes will have switched from conventional lighting methods by then. The most significant hurdle in getting to that adoption rate is simply the cost of implementation. Altogether, Drawdown says, start-up costs will approach $323 billion. But the cost of LED bulbs is coming down, which should make the option more affordable for many people.
The increasing availability of solar LED bulbs also has the potential to bring light to regions of the world where large electricity grids have yet to be established. “When the sun sets, more than a billion people live in the dark,” the research team points out. “Low energy use means LEDs can be powered with small solar cells. Solar-LED lights can replace expensive kerosene lamps and their noxious fumes and emissions, while addressing the problem of light poverty.”
When the long life of LED bulbs is factored in—one bulb used around five hours a night could hold up for more than 25 years—LED lighting is “the least expensive form of illumination on the planet,” Drawdown concludes.