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Clean Energy Opponents Attack Super-Efficient Light Bulb Because The Washington Post Can’t Do Math

By Brad Johnson on March 11, 2012 at 11:25 am

"Clean Energy Opponents Attack Super-Efficient Light Bulb Because The Washington Post Can’t Do Math"

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Cross-posted from ThinkProgress Green

A slanted Washington Post story by Peter Whoriskey attacked the innovative $50 light bulb that won the Department of Energy’s $10 million L Prize for lighting innovation as being “costly,” “exorbitant,” and “too pricey” in comparison to a $1 incandescent bulb — based on faulty math. The Philips LED bulb, which is assembled in Wisconsin with computer chips made in California, is a technical breakthrough, with high-efficiency natural-color light. At no point does the article — which appeared online with the tendentious headline “Government-subsidized green light bulb carries costly price tag” — compare the lifetime cost of the super-efficient (10-watt), long-lasting (30-year) bulb with that of traditional 60-watt light bulbs. An accompanying infographic prepared by Patterson Clark and Bonnie Berkowitz compared costs, asserting that the lifetime cost of the $50 bulb plus electricity would end up being $5 more than traditional bulbs:

Washington Post graphic incorrectly claims lifetime cost of $50 LED bulb is $5 higher than traditional incandescents.

Unfortunately for the Washington Post’s credibility, the cost calculation was extremely wrong. Clark and Berkowitz’s assessment assumes that the kilowatt-hour price of electricity is $0.01, instead of actual average retail price of $0.12 and rising. This factor-of-ten error demolishes the entire premise of Whoriskey’s article. ThinkProgress Green has prepared a corrected graph, based on a low-ball estimate of $0.10/kWh electricity:

A corrected version of the Washington Post lightbulb cost comparison shows $50 LED bulb over $100 cheaper than incandescents. Prepared by ThinkProgress Green.

Instead of issuing a correction, the Washington Post silently excised the false section of their infographic online.

Whoriskey’s attack on the innovative, money-saving light bulb was promoted by the Drudge Report and picked up by right-wing blogs as further evidence that American clean-tech innovation is an Obama boondoggle. At Michelle Malkin‘s blog, Doug Powers complains about the “$10 million in prize money taxpayers are on the hook for in order to pay a company to create light bulbs people either can’t afford or won’t want.” Gateway Pundit screams: “It’s an Obama World… Gas Reaches $5 a Gallon & “Green” Light Bulbs Cost You $50 Each.” “The same people who can afford to drive a Volt (and have the limo pick them up when it runs out of charge) will be the ones purchasing this idiocy,” Pirate’s Cove blathers. American Enterprise Institute scholar Kenneth Green blasted the “Ludicrous Prize” as one of “epic energy-failures.” At Ricochet, George W. Bush speechwriter Troy Senik asks, “What lost? A bulb powered by the hoofbeats of unicorns?”

One of the strangest phenomena of modern-day politics is the right-wing antagonism toward American clean-energy manufacturing, a consequence of the fossil-fuel industry’s stranglehold on our nation’s conservatives. The Washington Post shouldn’t be aiding and abetting this ugly trend.

This piece was originally published at ThinkProgress Green.

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18 Responses to Clean Energy Opponents Attack Super-Efficient Light Bulb Because The Washington Post Can’t Do Math

  1. ed4linda says:

    The Post has been on a downward slide ever since the exit of Katherine Graham!

  2. caerbannog says:

    The Home Depot near me has “house brand” LED bulbs for 10 bucks each. Tried a couple, and they really put out the light (they seem brighter than their 40-watt-equivalent rating).

    Went back and bought 5 more to replace the energy-hogging “recessed” incandescent lights in the kitchen (7 x 60 watts) — went from burning 420 watts to 63 watts. The LED lights light up the kitchen “like daylight”. (The dimmer-switch precludes going to fluorescents).

    According to my utility bill, each KW I use costs me about 15 cents. Based on average daily use, payback time will be less than 1 and 1/2 years.

    My suggestion is to buy one or two first and try them out in various places around the house. If they perform satisfactorily, put them in “high use” fixtures where the payback time is the shortest.

  3. Leif says:

    First, I have two of the Philips LEDs and love them both. I payed $30.00 for the first and loved it. My wife claimed is as her favorite reading light. A month later I went back for a second for the other end of the house and most used light. The price had already dropped to $25.00. In addition I bought three more to give away as X-mass presents. About 90% of our lighting is now accomplished with 2 LEDs.

  4. Todd says:

    I started buying LED bulbs 4 years ago when they 1st came to the stores hear in Norway. I now have puchased and installed a total of 28, and the reduced peak load in our lighting is about 1 kiloWatt. We have a long and dark 3 month period and we must have indoor lighting to avoid depression, so there are real savings realized. We heat with wood pellets and some electric resistive heating, so we have not lost anything by producing less heat with our lighting. I have tried all types of models and brands. Some are definitely better than others.

  5. fj says:

    Super-efficient LED lighting is truly magical using not only a small fraction of the energy required by legacy lighting with minimal heat and phenomenal lifetimes; understanding environmental, financial, and many other issues they make extremely good economic sense.

  6. The Wonderer says:

    Thank you for the cross-post and for setting the record straight. I commented on this in yesterday’s open thread, but had missed the rosey electricity cost assumption that was with the infographic. Even with that gross distortion of the comparison, I’d guess that most readers of the printed article would take-away a much less favorable comparison than the infographic showed. That article was truly awful.

  7. Jesse says:

    The WaPo graphic has since been replaced with one much like yours, but apparently using a .12/kwh approximation.

    No change to the headline, though.

    • All of these LED bulbs can be made even more efficient using less current and with no need for the heatsink were they driven from high frequency impulses such as produced by a blocking oscillator. They need not cost $50 that way either.

      • Chris Winter says:

        Would you care to suggest any specific products?

        What about the possibility of interference — say with AM radio?

      • Dennis Tomlinson says:

        This is a phenomenon which takes advantage of the human eye, when exposed to high frequency pulse modulated light, to give a perceived response that is skewed toward the peak power as opposed to the average power. This allows using less electrical energy for a given perceived brightness, when compared to driving the LED with a pure DC current.

  8. We retrofitted 48 standard down lights with dedicated LEDs in the house we bought last summer, and we’ve been very happy with the results. For details, see http://www.koomey.com/post/8765851978

  9. John Hollenberg says:

    We replaced 6 50 watt incandescent bulbs in our condo elevator with 14 watt CFL bulbs. About a year ago, we changed to 8 watt LED bulbs. These bulbs are on 24 hours per day. We went from using 300 watts to 84 watts to 48 watts. Even though the LED bulbs were almost 4 times as expensive as CFL, a cost analysis shows that over 10 years we will save $163 in bulb costs and $452 in electricity costs compared to the CFL bulbs. The bulbs actually provide more light than the CFL, and we will end up saving 3,154 kWh over 10 years from this simple change.

    In addition, we did a retrofit on the lighting in our parking garage, going from T12 fluorescents with magnetic ballasts to T5 fluorescents with electronic ballasts. The retrofit was $3950 for parts and labor. We are saving $110 per month in electricity costs, for a payback period of under 3 years. After that we will continue to save over $1300 per year.

    The Washington Post does not want to be confused by the facts.

  10. CTG says:

    I like the way Gateway Pundit completely fails to understand how the Volt works.

    The same people who can afford to drive a Volt (and have the limo pick them up when it runs out of charge)

    The Volt never runs out of charge, because its ICE recharges the battery as you go.

  11. SecularAnimist says:

    Brad Johnson wrote: “One of the strangest phenomena of modern-day politics is the right-wing antagonism toward American clean-energy manufacturing, a consequence of the fossil-fuel industry’s stranglehold on our nation’s conservatives. The Washington Post shouldn’t be aiding and abetting this ugly trend.”

    Thank you. This paragraph concisely captures several absolutely crucial points.

    First, what is called “conservatism” in America today is no longer a political philosophy or ideology. It is a cross between a cult and an entertainment demographic, created by wealthy and powerful corporations through the so-called “right wing media”, which has systematically brainwashed millions of people to slavishly and unquestioningly believe whatever corporate propaganda is branded “conservative” and spoon-fed to them by the “conservative” media.

    Second, the so-called “right wing” media and its cult-for-hire of “Ditto-Heads” — like the Republican Party — has increasingly come under the control of the fossil fuel corporations in particular, and is increasingly serving their particular, narrow profit interests with global warming denialism and attacks on renewable energy and efficiency technologies. In short, whatever it takes to delay and obstruct the urgently needed, and ultimately inevitable, phase-out of fossil fuels is branded “conservative” and spoon-fed to the Ditto-Heads.

    Third, the role of the Washington Post and other so-called “mainstream” media outlets in “aiding and abetting” the dissemination of “ugly” corporate propaganda, in effect legitimizing and “sanitizing” it for a wider audience, is nothing new. The Post has been doing this on a variety of issues for a long time — as have other corporate media outlets.

  12. The Wonderer says:

    Here is a good article in IEEE Spectrum about some of the technical challenges that are being addressed.

  13. Oggy Bleacher says:

    Neither one of those graphs includes the energy used to produce the computer chips or the LEDs compared to incandescent or CFL bulb manufacturing. Energy used for lighting is only one dimension. I start to think about 130,000,000 households requiring ten led bulbs each so 1.3 billion computer chips for lighting alone. As soon as computer chips enter the equation I start to shake my head. No aquifer is safe if our salvation lies in silicone wafers. Simplify. Simplify.

    • Pangolin says:

      For some reason I think that all of these people who are suddenly horribly concerned about the computer chips in light bulbs, only light bulbs are pretty new to the environmental world. Like, they got their talking points e-mail ten minutes before they posted.

      You know them; the same people who are horribly concerned about coal burning only when it feeds electricity to a car.

  14. The Wonderer says:

    I was wondering today about the source of the mis-informed infographic. WaPo can’t do math or dutifully copied from a think-tank source?