Fifty Dollar Light Bulbs

by Brian McGraw on May 17, 2011

in Blog, Features

Post image for Fifty Dollar Light Bulbs

This week Philips Co. showcases its newest success at capturing rents produced by government mandates: it has produced a 17-watt LED bulb that functions as equivalent to a 75-watt incandescent bulb. The catch: they will initially cost around $50.

The announcement contains the usual boilerplate about how in just a few more years these light bulbs will be the cat’s pajamas, and everyone will be buying them. Go get in line. Lynne Kiesling comments:

This week Philips is releasing a mass-market LED light bulb with a physical and lumens-delivering profile to mimic incandescents at a fraction of the energy use. But they’ll still be priced at $40-45, which is a bit steep for customers who are accustomed to cheap, short-lived bulbs, so their market success will require some education and adaptation of expectations. They will also have to overcome the hurdles of the failed expectations of compact fluorescent bulbs, which have not demonstrated the required longevity/price tradeoff to make them economical (in addition to their other shortcomings). I may buy one to test, but I don’t plan on fitting out my whole house in these LEDs any time soon, based on my CFL experience.

Yep. These might be the better buy, but I won’t be surprised if consumers shun these bulbs until more data is in. LK notes that we went down this road with CFLs and they have yet to demonstrate their superiority. The article suggests it might take 17-25 years for the bulb to burn out, and thus, for the consumer to capture the savings over traditional incandescent bulbs.

Capturing the surplus value here, assuming it exists, requires that I live in the same location for the next 25 years (let’s hope not),  or take all of the bulbs with me when I leave without breaking any of them (and seriously, who steals all the light bulbs on the way out of a rental apartment — goodbye security deposit and dignity), pray that they fit into my future abode, re-sell them on E-Bay, etc.

Cheers to the people who claim that government incentives are required for innovation! Look at what you created — a bulb that might last 25 years if anyone is around to notice (remember, we all die in the long run), and costs roughly 100 times more than a traditional bulb.

I myself am holding out for night vision contact lenses, making lighting obsolete.

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