Solar energy is wonderful, but it’s just on one side of the electricity equation. Our electricity supply needs to be green, but we also need to cut our electricity use a great deal. There is no scenario for adequately tackling global warming and catastrophic climate change that doesn’t involve tremendous improvements in energy efficiency.
While we often look at our appliances as energy hogs, I think many of us take for granted how much electricity our lights use. Here’s a staggering fact to help wake us up: 20% of world electricity usage goes to lighting.
The good news is that we have the technology we need to cut a lot of that. LEDs are now cost-competitive with inefficient light bulbs. We could reportedly cut that 20% figure to 4% if we made a full switch to LEDs.
In the US, where we use a lot of electronics and appliances, lighting isn’t as big a percentage of home energy use. Including transportation and heating, lighting accounts for 5–10% of the average home’s energy usage, costing us $50–$150 per year. Commercial usage is likely much higher. In California, it’s 25%; in a typical office in Australia, lighting accounts for nearly 40% of electricity usage. Using LEDs instead of incandescent light bulbs can cut electricity use tremendously, and it should be our default setting by now.
Of course, we should all change our main light bulbs to LEDs. My wife and I did so earlier this year and we are very happy with the shift. However, lights are used in many applications that we tend to forget about. For example, emergency lights (especially in the commercial sector) can end up using a good bit of electricity. There’s now a variety of emergency lighting solutions* on the market — not only CFLs, which have been available for a long time, but also cost-effective and more efficient LEDs. There are also outdoor lights, exit signs, refrigerator lights, and much more. They should really almost all be switched over to LEDs, maybe even all of them — I imagine there are types of lights where LEDs still aren’t available or practical, but for every application I’ve examined, they are.
So, whether you’ve gone solar or are thinking about going solar, also be sure to cut back your electricity use through a simple switch of your light bulbs. If you haven’t yet gone solar, I’d recommend doing this first in order to see how much it reduces your electricity use, and thus the size of solar PV system that is ideal for you. If you already have solar panels and this means you send more solar-produced electricity to the grid, that should make you more money and also cut the electricity generation of fossil fuel power plants. no matter how you slice it, switching to LEDs makes financial and ecological sense.
*This articles was supported by EmergencyLight.net.