LEDs, or Light Emitting Diodes, were originally used in aviation and automotive lighting, indicator lights and infra-red remote controls, along with laboratory and electronics equipment. Their low-light output made them unsuitable for room lighting; however, development of LED technology has seen their usage grow to become standard domestic lighting equipment.
LEDs vs. incandescent bulbs
LEDs differ from traditional incandescent light bulbs in the amount of heat they produce and in their longevity. Traditional bulbs waste 90% of their energy consumption on producing heat that is then wasted. LEDs produce a fractional amount of heat compared to incandescent or even fluorescent bulbs, in addition they last a lot longer. This means they use far less energy to run and need replacing rarely, making them far more eco-friendly and cost-efficient than old-fashioned light bulbs.
They are a small but powerful source of light, produced by electrons moving through semi-conductor materials. Their light output is also directional rather than spherical, meaning less light and heat are wasted; they can also emit light of any colour without the use of filters. Their fast response times, meaning they achieve full brightness in less than a microsecond, is a further advantage. Failure tends to occur gradually rather than as an abrupt blow. This gives you ample warning, so you shouldn’t be suddenly plunged into darkness. Their output is unaffected by shape and size and they are less susceptible to external shocks than delicate incandescent bulbs.
With a lifetime of up to 100,000 hours, LEDs need replacing far less often than light bulbs used to, meaning far fewer need to be disposed. At the moment, their high purchase cost can put off consumers, but over a lifetime they represent a significant saving in energy as well as replacement costs. Going on these parameters, it would seem LED lights are a champion of the environment; however, it’s not quite that simple.
While LEDs represent a dramatic reduction in energy consumption for domestic and public lighting, they are often produced using toxic metals, meaning that when one does fail, it must be disposed of with extra care. This also raises a question mark over the disposal of manufacturing by-products. In addition to nickel and lead, the LEDs are known to contain harmful substances such as copper and arsenic. The metals found in LEDs have been linked to various human illnesses and disorders, most notably cancer; they also cause environmental damage by contaminating soil and waterways. At present, LEDs are not classified as a toxic material and no special disposal restrictions apply, but questions do remain. It is worth mentioning, however, that incandescent bulbs contain lead and mercury, while mercury is also found in fluorescents.
These doubts notwithstanding, it’s hard to argue against the use of a product that leaves a carbon footprint 85% smaller than its predecessor and which could reduce energy demands by a third, in addition to reducing electricity bills. Furthermore, this is a rapidly advancing technology, with newer developments promising increasing efficiency and light output. It seems LED lighting is the future.