The Nobel in chemistry was awarded today to three scientists for their discovery and synthesis of tiny nanoparticles known as quantum dots. These quantum dots have many uses, including illuminating computer monitors and television screens, guiding surgeons, and in some LED lamps. LED stands for light emitting diode, and the overall global market for LED illumination was around $71 billion dollars last year, according to Grand View Research. It’s expected to grow as customers learn about and adopt the technology.
To help with that education, at Poplar Place Hardware in Dundalk, Maryland, owner Brandan Akins created a display of different kinds of LED bulbs, all lit up.
“Because it’s new to people,” Akins explained. “They come in, they’ll ask, ‘Well, what is an LED?’”
Akins said some customers pronounce it “lead,” instead of by the initials. The four bulbs on display range in color from a soft white to one that looks like a vintage Edison bulb.
“I’ll turn it on, and it’ll be like ‘Oh, wow,’” said Akins.
LEDs make up most of his light bulb inventory. Akins said they’re more expensive than incandescent bulbs, about double the price.
“But if they last ten times as long, and you have to change them a lot fewer times, then they pay for themselves in the long run,” said Akins.
LEDs use about 10% of the energy that incandescents do, and Akins notes, most incandescents are being phased out.
He called LEDs a huge improvement over compact fluorescent lights, which are energy efficient but can make people look kind of washed out.
Scientist and energy consultant Morgan Pattison said LEDs said early LEDs had a clunky design, but that’s improved. He called their adoption a historic change.
“I would say it’s about a once in a century disrupter,” said Pattison. “I think the disruption is equivalent to the candle to incandescent light disruption.”
Pattison said almost all new lighting products sold in the US are LEDs, and that government rebates have helped with customer adoption.
But there’s savings for the climate, too. Lighting is a big contributor to carbon emissions, and would be even bigger without LEDs, per Jay Koh of the Lightsmith Group, a climate-focused private equity firm. Koh noted that LED lighting truly caught on once it became a better product.
“The lesson there is if we’re going to address climate change, the technology has to not just be better for the planet and more efficient for energy usage, it also has to be a better experience,” said Koh.
There’s a lot happening in the world. Through it all, Marketplace is here for you.
You rely on Marketplace to break down the world’s events and tell you how it affects you in a fact-based, approachable way. We rely on your financial support to keep making that possible.
Your donation today powers the independent journalism that you rely on. For just $5/month, you can help sustain Marketplace so we can keep reporting on the things that matter to you.