Saturday science subject: LED street lighting

— 2:26 PM on March 28, 2009

As compact-fluorescent lamps grow in popularity, some are already looking to the future. Scientific American reports that Torraca, a small Italian village, has become "the first place in the world to be totally illuminated by light-emitting diodes."

While LED lights are still considerably more expensive than their CFL counterparts (a 100W-equivalent light reportedly costs $80, compared to $3 for a similar CFL), Scientific American says cities and building owners find the lower running costs alluring:

After all, some 22 percent of all electricity use in the U.S. is devoted to lighting, according to the U.S. Department of Energy—and switching to LEDs could save $280 billion by 2028. In fact, researchers at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, N.Y., estimate that replacing incandescents with LEDs could save $1.83 trillion in energy costs globally over the next decade and eliminate the need for 280 1,000-megawatt power plants.

LEDs also last longer than CFLs, and they don't contain mercury. (The article explains, "The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that 670 million . . . fluorescent lights end up in the trash yearly and release some two to four tons of mercury per annum into the environment.")

LED lighting has already found its way in a number of other locations, too, including the Pentagon, Beijing's Bird's Nest Olympic Stadium, and the Raleigh Convention Center's Shimmer Wall in North Carolina. In the future, Scientific American says organic LEDs (OLEDs) could become popular, because they emit unfocused light, are "potentially even more efficient," and can be made translucent and used on surfaces like windows.

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