Friday, 14 December 2012

New LED strip light

I just saw this for 2,180 yen. Is it a no-brainer to buy, or would I be another sucker?

We have four fluorescent lights in the house. Fluorescent tubes are cheaper to buy than LEDs for the moment, although they use more electricity and don't last as long. We used fluorescent tubes in three store rooms in the house. We seldom use these, perhaps once or twice a month for the ones upstairs, so the electricity usage is tiny, and the difference in lifetime is insignificant. The underfloor storage is more marginal as we use this more. 

The other fluorescent tube was ready-installed in the bathroom sink and mirror unit. This is used a few times every day and is often left on. There are four advantages to switching it to LED: Lower electricity costs, no need for replacement, instant switch on, and less heat in the summer. 

In terms of electricity usage, we're comparing 9 watts for the LED with 20 watts for a 20-watt fluorescent tube. If we use it for two hours a day, which may be a bit generous, the difference will be around 600 Watt hours per month. At an average 20 yen per kWh, that's around 12 yen per month. Those yens are certainly going to add up, but will take almost 7 years to reach 1000 yen. In a living room or kitchen, and more so in shops or offices, the payback in electricity cost is going to be much shorter. 

I always scratch my head in wonder when I go to the local electrical appliance shop and see the LEDs being promoted and on offer, but looking up at the ceiling there is row upon row of fluorescent tube. Perhaps they get a special deal from the electricity company as they do so much to boost their business!

In terms of replacement, I can pick up a regular 20 Watt tube for around 100 yen, which, relative to the price of the LED is free. The lifetime of an LED is not twenty times longer. Even if it were, the lifetime of the fluorescent tube is still going to be a few years. They are rated with a lifetime of around 9,000 hours. This is 10 times longer than incandescent bulbs, so switching from incandescent to fluorescent is a no-brainer. LEDs are about five times longer again. In the case of our house, the fluorescent tube should last over ten years. That's a theoretical figure, but one practical bit of evidence is a house my parents built twenty years ago, which used all compact fluorescents. It was eight years before they had to change a bulb.

So after a couple of replacements, LEDs are likely to be cheaper than fluorescent tubes as the economics of their inherently lower resource use take over. So in terms of replacement, getting the LED and replacing it now is going to save perhaps a couple of hundred yen in ten years time. Of course, in ten years, fluorescent tubes may have been banned and there may be no choice, since another issue is the pollution from the production and disposal of the fluorescent tube. 

If I had the choice of buying a fluorescent tube or an LED tube for this, then I would go for the LED. This is not really a direct financial cost in my pocket now, but a more general trend of picking the pocket of the planet, and increasing the problems and shortages that our children and grand children will face. Having said this, LEDs are not made out of sunshine and rainwater, and have their own range of dirtily-mined precious metals and toxic chemicals, but there are undoubtedly going to be less of them. The choice is whether to carry on using a tube I already have, or replacing it.

The instant switch on is not a major issue as everyone has lived in Japan for quite a while and is used to that flicker. The summer heat is also marginal. It's brighter in the summer so we use it less, and it is only putting out an extra 10 watts. 

So, for now there is no need to spend 2,000 yen. When the bulb goes, it's going to be sensible to replace it with an LED. Until then, or unless LED-style tubes get to be much cheaper, or threaten going off the market as everyone is installing LED light units, I can put away my wallet.