portable stadium light

If you used a bulb for just two hours a day and paid the national average of 11.5 cents per kilowatt hour, a single 12-watt LED will cost you about $1 per year. Comparable CFLs that consume about 14 watts come to $1.17 per year and about $5 a year for 60-watt incandescents in that scenario. 

At this point, LED bulbs are the hybrid cars of lighting. They’re cheaper to operate but cost more upfront than their less-efficient cousins.

There have been LED spotlights and smaller lights for years, but now people can buy LED bulbs that give out as much light as a 60-watt incandescent and are designed for use just about anywhere. And rather than purchase them online or in a specialty store, they will be available at Home Depot, Lowes, and no doubt other familiar retail outlets next year.

Weighing cost and light quality, LEDs are worth considering right now for downlights and worth keeping an eye on if you have a lot of incandescent bulbs. If you already have a lot of CFLs in places like desktop lamps, don’t expect a quick payback by switching over. But LEDs offer some other advantages, notably longer life.

Lighting your living space is obviously a very personal decision, but as you think about upgrading with energy efficiency in mind, here are a few factors to consider.


The good news on LEDs are that these lights, quality-wise, are quite good and they put out enough light for a lot of needs. But there’s no getting around the fact that LED bulbs for general lighting are a new technology that comes with a price premium.

Home Depot’s 800 lumen Philips LED bulb is priced at just under $40 and consumes 12 watts. A 40-watt equivalent from Lighting Sciences Group, which consumes less than 8 watts, costs just under $18.

If you were considering moving en masse to LEDs, you would need to take a long view from a financial perspective. Osram Sylvania figures that putting its $39.98 LED in to replace a 60-watt incandescent will save $132 over the life of the bulb, assuming a price of electricity at 10 cents per kilowatt-hour. That’s more than 25,000 hours, or 17 years of using a bulb four hours a day.

What’s the Real Cost of LED LightingMuch Lower Than Expected!

The #1 hurdle when trying to convince a customer to install LED lighting is the upfront cost. It is true that LED fixtures and bulbs are more expensive than incandescent, fluorescent and HID options. However, when you take into account the service life and low energy consumption of LED, it’s actually the cheapest option per hour of lighting offered. Let’s compare three types of light bulbs as an example.

Light Bulb Comparison: Incandescent vs CFL vs LED

Consider the three following light bulb options:

Incandescent = $1.00 per bulb, 75 watts, 1000 hours of life

Fluorescent = $3.00 per bulb, 20 watts, 10,000 hours of life

LED = $6.00 per bulb, 13 watts, 25,000 hours of life

The LED option seems to be the most “expensive”, but how much are you actually paying for every 500 hours of lighting? (For this example, 500 hours are used instead of one hour to avoid dealing with fractions of a cent).

500 hours with incandescent = $1 / 1000 x 500 = $0.50

500 hours with CFL = $3 / 10,000 x 500 = $0.15

500 hours with LED = $6 / 25,000 x 500 = $0.12

In terms of lamp cost per hour, LED wins. Now let’s analyze the energy consumption during 500 hours with each bulb, assuming $0.14/kWh, which is slightly above the average US price of electricity.

Incandescent lighting energy cost = 0.075 kW x 500h x $0.14/kWh = $5.25

CFL energy cost = 0.020 kW x 500h x $0.14/kWh = $1.40

LED lighting energy cost = 0.013 kW x 500h x $0.13/kWh = $0.91

LED is also the winning option in terms of energy savings.

Summary of Costs

By adding the calculated values, we get the following ownership costs for every 500 hours.

Incandescent = $0.50 + $5.25 = $5.75

CFL = $0.15 + $1.40 = $1.55

LED = $0.12 + $0.91 = $1.03

In other words,

The ownership cost of CFLs is over 70% less than than of incandescent bulbs.

For LEDs, it is over 80% less.

Between CFLs and LEDs, the ownership cost of LEDs is over 30% less.

LED light bulb vs Incandescent light bulb comparison

LED Light Bulb
Incandescent Light Bulb
Initial Cost
50,000 Hours
1000 Hours
Cost to purchase and operate 3 hrs / day for 1 year:
Cost to operate for second year:

Resources: https://thegrid.rexel.com/en-us/knowledge/lighting-design/w/wiki/277/what-s-the-real-cost-of-led-lighting-much-lower-than-expected


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