CREE, the Durham, N.C.-based leader in the fast-growing LED lighting space, is on the market with a new LED bulb for consumers that looks like a regular light bulb and functions like one.
While the bulb has a $19.97 sticker price, several California-based utilities are expected to offer point-of-sale rebates that could slash the cost in half. LEDs are increasingly available on hardware store shelves, but at price points that remain too high for widespread adoption. If utility rebates can bring the cost down to $10 or less, consumers are expected to buy them in far greater numbers.
There are roughly 500 million light bulbs in California alone. Of those, 80 percent are incandescent bulbs — the same light bulbs that have been around since the days of Thomas Edison. More energy-efficient CFLs, or compact fluorescent lights, never really caught on with consumers: They were slow to turn on and made colors, particularly reds, look icky and washed out. Not only that, but CFLs come with a health risk if they’re broken: They contain small amounts of mercury, a neurotoxin that can be particularly harmful to children and pregnant women.
“As soon as you say LED, people ask ‘Is it going to be like a CFL?’ ” said Chuck Swoboda, CREE’s Chairman and CEO, in an interview Monday at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, where CREE had retrofitted the penthouse with its new LED bulbs. “There’s a lot of negative consumer sentiment about CFLs.”
CREE’s soft white LED 60-watt replacement uses only 13.5 watts. But the big breakthrough is its CRI, or Color Rendering Index, which measures light quality. The scale goes to 100, which is natural sunlight; CREE’s new bulb has an industry-leading CRI of 93, making it closest to the traditional incandescent bulbs on the market. The California Energy Commission has a voluntary LED bulb specification that requires a CRI of at least 90; most LEDs have a CRI in the 80s, and making a bulb with a higher CRI usually comes at the expense of cost or energy efficiency.
CREE set out to meet California’s new specifications with one goal in mind: get LEDs in the hands of as many consumers as possible and drive up the adoption curve.
“I’m trying to get my 83-year-old father to go to Home Depot and buy one of these things,” said Swoboda. “The difference between this and previous bulbs is the color quality. We want to move the 80 percent that are not converted.”
Swoboda said that if an LED bulb looks “too weird,” consumers won’t be willing to try it, so the new bulb looks like a regular bulb. But it uses 78 percent less energy and last 25 times longer as typical incandescent bulbs on the market. It also comes with a 10-year warranty.
“Light quality is the only way to get consumer adoption,” said Swoboda. “Our whole mantra is that the lighting experience has to be as good or better than what you had before. Our goal is 100 percent adoption.”
CREE’s new LED bulbs will be offered exclusively at Home Depot stores. The 40-watt replacement costs $17.97; the 60watt replacement costs $19.97. Several utilities, including SMUD and PG&E, are expected to announce significant rebates in October.
CREE’s new LED Bulb looks like a traditional incandescent bulb