Energy Adviser: LEDs light holidays efficiently

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Nothing banishes winter's gloom and bedazzles the holiday season quite like a string of lights. Whether draped over a Christmas tree, or outlining the house, lights signal holiday cheer.

They can also mean a jump in your electric bills -- that is, unless they're LED.

LED stands for light-emitting diode. This type of holiday lights use 90 percent less electricity than incandescent holiday lights and can last up to 50,000 hours outside, even on cold and rainy nights. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, LED holiday lights can last for 20 to 30 years.

Standard incandescent bulbs typically last about 2,000 hours. And because LEDs operate at lower temperatures, they reduce fire risk indoors and out.

"LEDs are not only more efficient, they are also almost indestructible," said DuWayne Dunham, a Clark Public Utilities energy counselor. "You can literally step on them and drag them around without hurting them."

Light-emitting diode lights are unlike typical bulbs because there's no filament, which incandescent bulbs have, and none of the gas found in fluorescent bulbs. LEDs move electrons through a semiconductor, which produces light. The technology has been used since the 1970s in electronics. We've all seen those tiny green-glowing lights on DVD players, computers and cell phones. LEDs also are common in flashlights.

LED holiday lights have evolved. Initially, they had a flickering, harsh light that left some clinging to their old strings of incandescents. The new generation of LED holiday lights are softer, and come in many styles.

When shopping for LED holiday lights look for the Energy Star label, which guarantees that the lights are independently tested to meet electrical requirements, have passed a 1,000-hour continuous test, and carry a three-year warranty. Those labeled "for outdoor use" are subjected to testing in outdoor conditions.

The Energy Star LED holiday lights use a tenth of the electricity of conventional bulbs. How does that translate to dollar savings?

Based on Clark Public Utilities' electricity rates, you will pay about $1.05 to run 10 strings of 100-LED lights for 10 hours per day for 35 days this holiday season. That compares with $10.75 for 10 strings of non-LED lights operated for the same amount of time.

LED holiday lights are available in stores and online in a range of styles. A basic string of 100 lights goes for about $20.

Although the initial investment in LED holiday lighting can be more expensive than standard incandescent string lighting, LED lights will pay for themselves in a few seasons in terms of durability and lower power costs.

An Environmental Protection Agency report estimated that the U.S. uses about 2.22 million kilowatt hours of electricity each year to illuminate miniature holiday lights. That's enough electricity to run more than 1,300 homes for a year.

Based on these figures, the EPA report concluded that a 20 percent market shift to LED Christmas lights would reduce annual electricity consumption in the U.S. by 400,000 kilowatt hours.

If you attend the community tree lighting in Vancouver's Esther Short Park on November 23, check out the LED holiday lights installed by volunteers from Clark Public Utilities and the city of Vancouver on the park's lampposts and smaller trees. The lights will be on display in the park through December.Energy adviser is written by Clark Public Utilities. Send questions to ecod@clarkpud.com or to Energy Adviser, c/o Clark Public Utilities, P.O. Box 8900, Vancouver, WA 98668.