Intelligent Energy

How to eliminate Japan's nuclear reactors: LED light bulbs

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Government ministry says that converting the country's 1.6 billion incandescents and fluorescents could save the output of 13 nuclear reactors, a quarter of Japan's total.

If Japan replaced all of its 1.6 billion light bulbs with LED varieties, the country would save the annual electricity output of 13 nuclear reactors.

So says the Institute of Energy Economics, a research group overseen by the country’s Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry.

IEE analyzed the benefits of switching to LEDs following the March nuclear disaster in Fukushima. Meltdowns prompted the country to abandon expansion of a nuclear industry that has provided 30% of Japan’s electricity with 54 reactors - 35 of which remain shut for safety.

IEE’s findings surfaced this week in the Mainichi Daily News.

"Promoting the introduction of LED lights will serve as energy-saving measures that have immediate effects and sustainability," the Tokyo-based online paper quotes an IEE representative as saying.

LED light bulbs use only about 10%-to-20% of the power consumed by incandescent light bulbs, and about 60% of fluorescents, including common energy-saving compact fluorescent bulbs. IEE figured that Japanese homes, offices and manufacturing sites use some 1.6 billion bulbs, annually eating up 150.6 billion kWh of electricity.

If people replace those with LED bulbs, the country would cut annual consumption by 92.2 billion kWh, to 58.4 billion kWh, according to IEE. It says that’s the equivalent of 13 nuclear reactors, a quarter of the country’s total.

Cost is a challenge. As we’ve noted before, LED bulbs in the U.S. can have retail prices of $40. If you have, say, 40 bulbs in your house, you’d pay $1600 to replace them all at once.

IEE tallied the bill for 1.6 billion bulbs in Japan at ¥15.7 trillion ($194 billion). However, the upfront cost provides long-term savings not only in electricity bills, but also in longevity. Manufacturers say LED bulbs can last for 25 years, although it will take a quarter of a century to find out if that’s true.

Another knock on LEDs, especially for home users, is that lighting designers and architects note that they lack the warmth of incandescent bulbs. But the good news from Japan - 70% of the 1.6 billion bulbs in Japan are fluorescent, to which many people would prefer LEDs for glow.

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Mark Halper

Contributing Editor

Mark Halper has written for TIME, Fortune, Financial Times, the UK's Independent on Sunday, Forbes, New York Times, Wired, Variety and The Guardian. He is based in Bristol, U.K. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure