LED light bulbs  (Source:
Humans will just use more electricity to balance it out

Replacing the Edison lightbulb with solid-state light-emitting devices (LEDs) made sense considering that many lighting developers thought it would reduce electrical usage worldwide. However, a new study argues that increased lighting efficiency will not cause a decline in electricity production because people will just use more of it, keeping the amount of electrical usage steady. 

It is often thought that a decrease in electrical usage worldwide would add to the "green" cause by reducing the number of power plants. But according to Jeff Tsao, the leader of the study and an LED researcher from Sandia National Laboratories, people will only use more electricity when presented with cheaper lighting. He also noted that this has been a pattern over recent centuries, dating as far back as A.D. 1700 as humanity moved from candle to oil to gas to electricity. The study claims that light use has remained "a constant fraction of per capita gross domestic product" as different, newer types of lighting came about. 

"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."

According to Tsao, there is a good side to this. With better artificial illumination, Tsao says it will increase human productivity because light in the workspace, especially in the shorter days of winter, increases creativity and awareness. Also, better lighting helps aid those who have vision loss.

"More fuel-efficient cars don't necessarily mean we drive less; we may drive more," said Jerry Simmons, coauthor of the paper and also a researcher from Sandia National Laboratories. "It's a tension between supply and demand. So, improvements in light-efficient technologies may not be enough to affect energy shortages and climate change. Enlightened policy decisions may be necessary to partner with the technologies to have big impacts."

On the other hand, there are concerns with light pollution from too much light. But Tsao mentioned that the new solid-state lighting is digitally controlled more precisely in space and time, and would allow humans to preserve darkness when necessary.

The study was published in the Journal of Physics D just this month. Other contributing authors of the paper include Harry Saunders of Decision Processes Inc., Randy Creighton and Mike Coltrin, both from Sandia National Laboratories. 

"I f***ing cannot play Halo 2 multiplayer. I cannot do it." -- Bungie Technical Lead Chris Butcher

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