Democratic News

The Washington Post published a front-page story today on the economics of buying an advanced light bulb.  The Post included a graphic (PDF below) to illustrate that owning the “L Prize” LED light-bulb will cost consumers more than if they owned less efficient incandescent light bulbs. 

This is bogus. 

The problem with the graphic is bad “info.”  It is based on electricity costing 1 cent per kilowatt-hour.  That’s way off from the actual price of electricity -- by a factor of 10!  The U.S. average retail cost of electricity, according to the Energy Information Administration, is about 11 cents per kilowatt-hour.  The Washington Post’s graphic indicates that the 1800 kilowatt-hours needed by old-fashioned incandescent technology costs $18, while the 300 kilowatt-hours needed for the replacement LED bulb costs $3.  Both work out to 1 cent per kilowatt-hour.

But when applying actual electricity prices, the old-fashioned incandescent bulbs cost the consumer $198 in electricity over the life-span of an L-Prize LED bulb (1800 kW-hr times 11 cents per kW-hr).  Over that same period of time, the electricity cost of an L-Prize light bulb is only $33 (300 kW-hr times 11 cents per kW-hr). 

So, an L-Prize bulb actually saves the consumer $165 in electricity costs for each bulb.  Even when you figure in the Post’s estimate that one $50 LED bulb is replacing $30 worth of incandescent bulbs -- and therefore, is $20 more expensive in terms of the costs of the bulbs themselves -- that is still a net savings of roughly $145 per L-Prize bulb.  It’s not a higher overall cost to the consumer, as the Post erroneously calculated.

That error goes to the heart of the Post story.  Is it fair to say that a bulb that the Post reports will cost $50 is unaffordable, while failing to mention that the savings on monthly electricity bills will far outweigh that cost?  A key premise of the story -- the affordability of advanced lighting -- is based on a significant, misleading error about electricity prices.  The Post has now deleted from its website the part of their graphic that contained its erroneous cost comparison.  But the story that remains on its website is still lacking in balance.  Even though advanced lighting costs more upfront, each advanced light bulb actually saves its owner a very tidy sum of money. 

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