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Can Philips Sell Its $45 Lightbulb?

Every year, U.S. consumers buy 90 million 75-watt incandescent bulbs at about 50 cents a pop. Philips wants to sell an LED equivalent for $45. Now the Dutch lighting giant just has to convince millions of Americans to pony up.

Philips introduced today at the Lightfair trade show, its EnduraLED A21, a bulb that looks similar to a standard incandescent. But unlike compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) -- another technology looking to replace the old standby -- these LED bulbs emit the same soft white light that consumers are used to. The difference is the life span and efficiency. Here's a quick lighting primer:

  • Incandescent bulbs last about 1,000 hours or less than a year
  • CFL bulbs last up to 6,000 hours or four years
  • Philips' 17-watt LED bulb has a rated life of 25,000 hours or 17 years and is 80 percent more energy-efficient than the traditional incandescent bulb.
Over its lifespan, a single Philips' 17-watt LED bulb will save a consumer about $160, according to Philips. The crux is getting the consumer to throw down 45 big ones at the checkout counter with the understanding that the LED bulb is actually cheaper over the long run.

The Big Government challenge
The entire lighting industry -- Philips included -- also face a backlash by some consumers angry that regulation will be phasing out incandescent bulbs because they no longer meet minimum efficiency standards. Even if LED bulbs are superior, some people are inclined to favor traditional bulbs just because "big government" has it out for them.

The solution: Do the math for the consumer

Until the price of these bulbs fall, Philips will have to focus its effort on education. A big piece of that is proper labeling that does the math for the consumer.

Take the auto industry, for example. Consumers face a multitude of choices when they walk through a car lot. But when it comes to choosing between two similar sedans or SUVs, consumers often focus on the vehicle's fuel efficiency. That figure is posted clearly on every car, and consumers are now conditioned to look at and care about that number.

Lighting companies could do something similar by putting bulb-efficiency figures in the context of everyday living. Few consumers will buy a $45 bulb. But they might just buy a light bulb that last 17 years.

Consider it this way. Would you buy a light bulb that you install when your child enters kindergarten and doesn't need to be replaced until he graduates from college?

Photo from Philips

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