Solid-state lighting pioneers long have held that replacing the inefficient Edison light bulb with more efficient solid-state light-emitting devices (LEDs) would lower electrical usage worldwide, not only “greenly” decreasing the need for new power plants but even permitting some to be decommissioned.
But, in a paper published in the Journal of Physics D, leading LED researchers from Sandia National Laboratories argue for a shift in that view.
“Presented with the availability of cheaper light, humans may use more of it, as has happened over recent centuries with remarkable consistency following other lighting innovations,” said Sandia lead researcher Jeff Tsao. “That is, rather than functioning as an instrument of decreased energy use, LEDs may be instead the next step in increasing human productivity and quality of life.”
The assumption that energy production for lighting will decline as the efficiency of lighting increases is contraindicated by data starting with the year A.D. 1700 that shows light use has remained a constant fraction of per capita gross domestic product as humanity moved from candle to oil to gas to electrical lighting. Thus the societal response to more efficient light production has been a preference to enjoy more light, rather than saving money and energy by keeping the amount of light produced a constant.
“Over the past three centuries, according to well-accepted studies from a range of sources, the world has spent about 0.72 percent of the world’s per capita gross domestic product on artificial lighting,” said Tsao. “This is so for England in 1700, in the underdeveloped world not on the grid and in the developed world using the most advanced lighting technologies. There may be little reason to expect a different future response from our species.”