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Tuesday, April 24, 2018


Hawaii has always been associated with the color blue.  The song, the ocean...  Fifty years ago, when you flew into Honolulu at night, you gazed at a Blue Hawaii.  This is because street lights then were mostly from mercury-vapor lights.

Then, came those sodium-vapor bulbs, which were more cost effective, but imparted an orange color.  We became Orange Honolulu.

But, a $46.5 million project will change 53,500 street lights all to Light Emitting Diodes (LED).  City officials say they will save $5 million annually just in electricity costs. Plus, these LEDs seem to last forever.

However, there is trouble brewing.  The Sierra Club has argued the selected LEDs are too blue.  This color is said to be detrimental to human health and bird safety.  The City argues that the the cooler color at 4000K (I'll later explain) are cheaper to operate, and, only 10% of the lights will be of this type on busier arterial streets.  The rest of the lights will be at 3000K, imparting a warmer glow.  The lens will only shine down and should not affect migrating birds nor astronomy requirements.

In any case, Honolulu is just among a swarm of cities shifting to LEDs.  Much of this activity began a decade ago.  Seattle has changed color, and so soon will Atlanta.

Back in history, here he is again, but Benjamin Franklin, who was the postmaster of Philadelphia, was the inventor of street lights in 1757.  He used candles.  Natural gas lighting arrived in Britain in 1792, with electric lights in Cleveland/Wabash in 1880.  Why is Broadway nicknamed the Great White Way?  Electric street lights.

From the beginning of electricity, General Electric and Westinghouse fought it out.  Should AC or DC be the national form of this power system?  Edison, who, with J.P. Morgan, founded the predecessor of General Electric, got Nikola Tesla to develop the alternating current (AC) form.  Edison did not like it and let Tesla go, for direct current (DC) seemed safer.  George Westinghouse embraced AC, and ultimately prevailed.  Read about their colorful and deadly rivalry.

Eventually, standard incandescent lamps were used.  In 1948 the mercury vapor bulb was made available, and it was brighter and cheaper to operate.  However, people complained that this light made them look like zombies.

Around 1970, the high pressure sodium vapor light began to replace mercury for economic reasons.  It was initially disliked because of the orange glow.  But Blue Honolulu became Orange Honolulu.

Then, for a while the metal halide lamp looked promising.  Recently, the induction lamp looked hopeful, for the light was close to incandescent, life was long (100,000 hours) and cost reasonable.  Compact fluorescent lamps (CFL), the kind we all now use at home, also made inroads, and the color was an acceptable soft white.

However, light emitting diodes seem now be taking over, for maintenance is low, lifetime high and investment cost rapidly dropping.  Here is a comparison, showing how much the price can vary:

Some additional info for your files:

What about you?  Which bulb should you use today.  You've of course discarded the incandescent option by now, and these will disappear in 2020 anyway.

If you have a nicely working CFL, keep it.  If you need a new bulb, LEDs now are the logical choice.  CFLs are good for 8,000 hours, while LEDs should last you for more than 25,000 hours.  Those hours listed left and right here can be contested.

So just as you now think you can comfortably use LEDs forever, comes OLEDs, or organic light-emitting diodes.  The color is closer to sunlight, and there is no piercing brightness factor.  For now, OLEDs are light panels, with diffuse lighting in sheets.  They are thus for those seeking the latest fashionable option.  Cost?  Don't ask, however, the price has dropped by a factor of ten since 2011.  But, get this, for an equivalent 25 watt incandescent bulb which costs almost nothing these days, the OLED will set you back $300.  Something to keep in mind as you design your new home or office.  You don't want to be stuck with simple ole LEDs.

Aha, but what about television sets?  Should you get OLED or LED?  Well, the jury is still out, but most reviews seem to lean in the OLED direction.  Surely, that's just got to be a clue to the future of lighting.

But just when you thought OLED, owned by LG of Korea, with partner Sony of Japan, was the final answer, here came QLED of Samsung, with the Q having to do with Quantum Dot.

Not unlike golf clubs, sure the technology is improving, but certainly getting people to buy something new must be at play.  Just another marketing conspiracy?  Such is the nature of progress.  Note also that the field of consumer electronics is now being dominated by South Korea.


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