Lower-cost LEDs become competitive with CFLs

Prices on LEDs have steadily dropped.

For years, lighting manufacturers have labored to make LED lights mimic the warm feel of incandescent bulbs. But what they offered in features and quality, they could not match in price.

As a result, many consumers and businesses looking for efficiency and lower cost opted for compact fluorescent lights, even if the light quality was often seen as worse.

Now, LED manufacturers say there is little need to make that choice.

Earlier this month, General Electric announced the Bright Stik, a cylindrical 60-watt equivalent available in soft white for $9.97 for a three-pack through Home Depot.

It follows a new LED from Philips, which last month came on the market at $4.97, with a two-for-one deal for the first 90 days. And TCP, a company that makes energy-efficient lighting under its own brand as well as for Home Depot and Wal-Mart, has an LED on the market for $4.88.

For GE, the new bulbs are a way for cost-conscious consumers to finally move away from the much-criticized compact fluorescents.

“We needed to paint a picture for consumers and retailers of, ‘OK, what does it mean if CFL doesn’t exist?’ ” said Tom Boyle, GE Lighting’s chief innovation manager. “This is our shot at it.”

Lighting executives have been predicting the end of the compact fluorescent for some time.

It was the first big alternative to emerge to replace the standard incandescent bulb, which was cheap but inefficient and unable to meet new government standards.

But it dissatisfied many consumers, who complained about the harsh light quality of early models. They also could be slow to warm up and difficult to dim, and they contain trace amounts of mercury.

LEDs have long been more expensive, but those who favor them say they offer better light quality and more flexibility. As prices have steadily dropped, in part because of government regulations making it easier for more LEDs to qualify for generous discounts, consumers have been moving to them.

Compact fluorescents still far outsell LEDs, representing 40 percent of bulb shipments for the most popular consumer models in the first quarter of this year, versus 6 percent for LEDs, according to the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, a trade group.

But experts say that demand for compact fluorescents is dwindling, while it is rising for LEDs.

“The only thing CFLs had going for them for a number of years is that they were a lot cheaper,” said Jesse Foote, a lighting industry analyst at Navigant, a research and consulting firm. “The cost difference at this point is not big enough to really justify the rest of the differences.”

The GE bulb is aimed mainly at businesses that now use compact fluorescents, like hotels. Home Depot is offering the model on its website and plans to have it on shelves by midsummer.