Until recently, options for non-incandescent light bulbs were fairly limited. There were the cheap and effective but harshly lit CFL bulbs, the expensive but high-quality LED bulbs, and the cheaper but lower-quality LEDs. When Philips released its 60-watt replacement state-of-the-art LED bulb last year, it came with a price tag of $60 (discounts are available, and a version is now on sale for $14.97).
Cree, a company that has been in the LED lighting business for 25 years is doing Philips one better: This week, it announced the release of a series of LED bulbs that look like incandescents, light up rooms like incandescents—and cost as little as $10.
"The idea was, we have this great technology but for some reason consumers aren’t trying it today—whether it’s too expensive, they don’t like the look, or whatever," explains Chuck Swoboda, CEO of Cree. "We have the first LED bulb that really looks like an [incandescent] lightbulb, and we’ve designed it in a way that it works like a lightbulb. Those two things combined with the price we think can get consumers to really try LED lighting."
Cree is releasing three bulbs: a warm white 40-watt replacement that costs $10, a warm white 60-watt replacements that costs $13, and a day light 60-watt replacement that costs $14. According to the company, the bulbs have a 25,000-hour lifetime (25 times longer than most incandescents) and energy savings of 84% compared to traditional bulbs.
The bulbs use the newest generation of high-power LEDs combined with traditional lightbulb parts. The glass dome over the top, for example, is something you would see in an incandescent bulb. It even comes from the same supply chain—something that helps lower costs. But that dome presented a problem initially. LEDs have to be shatter resistant because of regulations, so Cree had to develop a coating over their bulbs to keep them from breaking when dropped. "There were lots of technical challenges," says Swoboda.
Another big challenge: Making the new bulbs resemble incandescent lights and not the alien-looking LEDs out on the market today. "We put the light right in the center of the bulb, and allows us to make the light come out like in a traditional incandescent lightbulb," explains Swoboda. Cree sent me a pair of bulbs to try out—I can attest that they do really resemble incandescent bulbs, both in the way they look and the light they emit. I didn’t try too hard to drop one, though, so I can’t speak to that shatter-resistant coating.
Cree has long been a player in the LED market, but this its first foray into consumer lighting. Says Swoboda: "Because of our position in LEDs, we have an inherent advantage. We’re vertically integrated, and we have the ability to adjust variables at the same time better than if we were using a traditional supply chain."
If you’re really cheap, Lemnis Lighting unveiled a set of LEDs in mid-February that cost $4.95 and $6.95. But the bulbs give off just 200 lumens and 350 lumens, respectively. That’s not bright enough for many uses. Cree’s 60-watt warm white replacement has a brightness of 800 lumens, in comparison.
But Swoboda admits that quality LEDs will continue to drop in price, even below the $10 barrier. I would expect that once we cross over this price point, we’ll see another wave of innovation around this category," he says.
Cree’s bulbs are available online now at Home Depot's website and go on sale in all of the chain’s stores by March 21st.