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Dr Barry Manor, Sustainability Consultant, outlines some of the ways to achieve energy efficiency. One quick and easy way to save energy in the home is to convert lighting to the latest technology, LED lighting. Also known as solid state lighting, LED is a major advance in illumination. These lights are one of the reasons Australia’s energy use went down four or five years in a row. The key thing is that LEDs work a bit differently to most other forms of lighting.

LEDS are essentially electronic chips that take a flow of electricity and convert it into light very efficiently.  To this end it is usually better to buy a whole new fixture (a light fixture with LEDs inside and specially designed reflectors or lenses to spread that light) than to just replace the bulb.

This will be more expensive than simply replacing a bulb but those costs can be paid back in energy savings (often in less than six months) as LEDs use 80% less energy than incandescent bulbs for similar light output. LED lamps that are rated for 50,000 hours of service last for 5,000 days if used for 10 hours a day. That is more than 13 years of service. This is very important in places like factories that have to maintain lighting and replace bulbs, often at great heights.

 LEDs do have a weakness because they need a very precisely controlled electric current supply. If the current goes even a little bit high the chip can be irreversibly damaged, resulting in a reduced light output or complete failure. The good quality brands do go to some trouble to design good current regulators for their LEDs. Always buy LED lights with a well-known brand name as it is usually false economy to cheaper units – they won’t last as long! Turning LEDs on and off frequently does not lessen their service life at all, unlike fluorescent tubes and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), which often only have a life of 1,000 switches. Voltage surges from things like lightning strikes, can cook LEDs but well-designed spike filters that preserve all electronics also preserve LEDs. 

Sydney’s traffic lights use LEDs. The old incandescent bulbs only converted 5% of the electricity to light and 80% of that was filtered out by the coloured lens in front. As LEDs come in specific colours those lenses aren’t needed and because they use 20% of the energy of the incandescent bulb, the savings are huge. Air conditioning can also save energy to keep houses cool in summer. You need a reasonably well insulated house and an air conditioner that is not too small for the space. It is best to keep the area around the air conditioner partitioned off as opposed to trying to cool the whole house.

Air conditioners work by pumping heat out of the house into the outside air, something they will struggle to do if the outside temperature is high, as it was in Sydney in late summer 2017. The temperature you set also makes a difference to energy usage. Every additional degree you set the thermostat away from the outside air temperature causes the air conditioner to use around 10% more energy, so avoid the temptation to set the thermostat at 18 DegC on a really hot day! 

One advantage of upgrading lighting to LEDs is that they produce less waste heat, meaning less air conditioning power to keep your home comfortable. Saving energy is a win/win solution so it really is time to make a light switch. 

Dr Manor was interviewed by Ruby Vincent for A Question of Balance. Images from Dr Manor. Summary text:by Victor Barry, March 2017. 

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.... just trying to live within the means of our planet Reversing resource debt....

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