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LED lights creep toward mainstream in 2010

Tech improvements are making energy-efficient LEDs more attractive for consumers, but the high upfront price is a persistent barrier, according to pair of studies.

The first contact many consumers have with LEDs is when stringing lights on the Christmas tree. But improvements in the energy-efficient lighting technology mean that more people will start screwing in LEDs for general lighting next year.

Semiconductor research company iSuppli on Tuesday forecast double-digit sales growth in the next three years for all types of LED lights, which are increasingly used in everything from street lights to flat-screen TVs. Although LEDs are still mostly used for other lighting applications, LEDs have started to penetrate the residential market as a replacement for incandescent or compact fluorescent bulbs, it said.

A recent Sylvania survey shows that three-quarters of Americans have tried different energy-saving light bulb technologies, such as halogen (left), compact fluorescent (center), or light-emitting diode (right). Osram Sylvania

"While the retail prices for LED light bulbs are still about an order of magnitude higher than those traditional incandescent lamps, customers increasingly are becoming aware of the power savings and long life benefits of solid-state LED lights," according to iSuppli.

LED manufacturers have already released 40-watt replacement bulbs with the traditional Edison shape while some, such as Lemnis Lighting, are marketing a 60-watt replacement that consumes only 6 watts.

Not surprisingly, high upfront costs are a significant barrier to broad adoption. The Lemnis 60-watt replacement costs about $50 and a 40-watt replacement from Osram Sylvania costs about $35.

Still, consumers are considering their options. Osram Sylvania on Wednesday released results from a survey that found 74 percent of consumers changed to a more efficient bulb this year, with 12 percent using LEDs.

The company anticipates that consumers will increasingly consider LEDs for efficient lighting because of the 2007 law to phase out incandescent bulbs in the U.S. by 2012. Nearly two-thirds of people will consider lower-energy options for replacements, although more than half said the price is a "key consideration," according to company representative Stephanie Anderson.

Osram Sylvania plans to introduce a 60-watt replacement in the spring of 2010, which is a more popular lighting choice that could draw more consumers. The cost will be in the same range as its 40-watt replacement, Anderson said.

"There is an appetite for new technologies. Consumers are not mourning the loss of the 100-watt incandescent," she said.

The Department of Energy hosts the Lighting Facts Web site, where it lists manufacturers and offers a volunteer labeling system with information on light output and efficiency, expressed in lumens per watt.