The ubiquitous but highly inefficient 60-watt light bulb badly needs a makeover. And it could be worth millions in government prize money — and more in government contracts — to the first company that figures out how to do it.
Right now, that company could be Philips, the Dutch electronics giant. The company announced that it had submitted the first entry for the L Prize, an Energy Department contest that will award up to $10 million to the first person or group to create a new energy-sipping version of the most popular type of light bulb used in America.
The $10 million is almost beside the point. More important, the contest winner will receive consideration for potentially lucrative federal purchasing agreements, not to mention a head start at cracking a vast consumer marketplace.
The L Prize has garnered significant attention in the lighting industry because 60-watt incandescent lamps represent 50 percent of all the lighting in the United States, with 425 million sold each year. The Energy Department says that if all those lamps were LED equivalents, enough power would be saved to light 17.4 million American households and cut carbon emissions by 5.6 million metric tons annually.
For decades, incandescent light bulbs continued to bear a strong resemblance to Thomas Edison’s creations, but new energy standards that go into effect in 2012 — and would effectively outlaw today’s incandescent bulb — have brought about a period of fertile innovation in the lighting industry.
The criteria of the contest specifies a bulb that reproduces the same amount and color of light made by a 60-watt incandescent bulb, but uses only 10 watts of power. The bulb must also last for more than 25,000 hours — about 25 times longer than a standard light bulb. In a nod to economic concerns, at least 75 percent of the bulb must be made or assembled in the United States.
Photo by paolamuria.