Cree's new T8 LED sets its sights on the commercial sector

/ Updated: May 5, 2014 1:47 PM PDT

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Colin West McDonald/CNET

LED lighting looks to be the emerging standard for the post-incandescent age -- but you wouldn't know it from looking at the commercial sector, where linear fluorescent lighting still reigns supreme. With over 2 billion fluorescent sockets running hot for business hours and beyond, these kinds of bulbs account for 42 percent of all lighting electricity consumed, per the US Department of Energy.

That's a lot of lights, and upstart LED manufacturer Cree wants to get in on the action with its new T8 LED, a tubular bulb designed to fit into 90 percent of existing T-8 fluorescent ballasts -- no rewiring necessary.

Cree's T8 LED uses 21 watts to produce 2,100 lumens' worth of light at a color temperature of 3,500K or 4,000K, and it's rated to last 50,000 hours. On top of all that, it boasts an impressive CRI (color rendering index) of 90. Compared with buzzy, flickering fluorescents -- which aren't as efficient and don't last as long -- Cree's LED looks like an obvious upgrade. Chuck Swoboda, Cree's chairman and CEO, goes as far as saying, "There's no reason to install another linear fluorescent tube again."

I'm betting that plenty of businesses will beg to differ. At $30 per bulb, Cree's T8 LED is dramatically more expensive than comparable T-8 fluorescents, which can retail for less than $2 each when bought in bulk. Even with the lower energy consumption, it would still take about a decade or more for Cree's T8 LED to make up that kind of price difference.

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Cree's T8 LED (left) fits into the same fixtures as existing fluorescent bulbs. Colin West McDonald/CNET

The real target of these LEDs might be business owners operating in regions that offer significant energy rebates for the adoption of high-efficiency lighting. The T8 LED was recently added to the DesignLights Consortium's list of qualified products, which rates commercial lighting in the same way that Energy Star rates residential lighting. That should qualify it for rebates ranging from $2 to $15 per bulb in participating regions, potentially making the T8 LED a much more appealing investment.

Rebates aside, business owners might still be drawn to Cree's T8 LED for its longer life span, as well as the fact that, unlike fluorescents, it contains no mercury. The T8 LED also promises to turn on instantly, and Cree claims it's compatible with most dimmable ballasts, too.

The T8 LED is available now in the US and Canada through Cree's distribution network, and comes with a 5-year warranty, which is a step down from the 10-year warranty found on Cree's residential bulbs, like its popular 60W replacement LED. Consumers and business owners seeking more information on the specific energy rebates offered in their region can check out the Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency (DSIRE).

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Where to Buy

Cree T8 LED

Part Number: CNETCree T8 LED

MSRP: $30.00

See manufacturer website for availability.