CFL vs LED: A Diatribe

Last week I went in to Cole Hardware looking for discounted compact fluorescent light bulbs. You see, PG&E has this CFL subsidy program where you can get a CFL for $1 instead of the market value of $6-15. They were out and the guy said, “Hmm, we had them for a long while but I think PG&E stopped doing it.”

(update, I just checked the PG&E website and I see a lot of retailers are in the program, and some of the large chains (Lowes, OSH, Home Depot) have LED bulbs in the program too. Cool)

This got me thinking…

My initial thoughts are that it’s kind of OK that this program is winding down. Now everyone is familiar with CFL bulbs, the price of CFL bulbs has come down (they used to be $20+),  and just as importantly, CFL bulbs now have real competition on store shelves from the new LED bulbs.

This got me thinking…

LED lighting has really taken off. Last month I noticed that Sausalito’s streetlamps are all LED (if you squint when looking at the fixtures, you can see that it’s like 50 tiny LED bulbs instead of one big sodium bulb. I saw that a good portion of the Westfield Mall in San Francisco is lit with LEDs. At the same time, the LED lighting industry is a bit like the wild west. For instance, when I was chatting with the guy at Cole Hardware, he walked me over to a cabinet that was lit in LEDs. They had all gotten very dim just two years after installation (update: I think it’s the power supply and not the LEDs, the LEDs wouldn’t have all dimmed so evenly together). Big companies like GE are touting their LED lighting systems.

It’s interesting to compare the lighting side-by-side

type          lumens per watt
Incandescent    14
Halogen         18
CFL             60
LED             70
Hi pres sodium  90
T5 fluorescent  100

CFL vs LED… that’s a surprisingly meh-worthy difference. And regular fluorescent tubes are more efficient than LEDs! LEDs are getting better… they have 200 lumen per watt LED bulbs in the laboratory.

But right now it’s kind of a wash.


  1. Michael says:

    A side note on availability. I find that all of the thrift stores on Valencia, but particularly the Salvos at Cesar Chavez carry subsidized cfls. I sure don’t want to give up my t5s yet though.

  2. lee says:

    Michael, thanks! I didn’t know where else to get them!

  3. Michael says:

    You’re welcome. I was pretty surprised to find bulbs there myself honestly.

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