100-watt LED bulbs occupy the spotlight (get it, spotlight?) at LightFair show

LightFair International kicks off today so expect a slew of announcements around advances in solid-state lighting and lighting automation technologies, particularly an LED replacement for the coveted 100-watt incandescent light bulb. This morning, San Jose-based Switch Lighting has announced a soon-to-be-available (late 2012) LED light bulb that is, in fact, equivalent in light output to a 100-watt incandescent bulb. Now, it will likely cost you about $50 — for now — but that price will come down. In two years, expect your local Home Depot to be heavily stocked with these babies, or some other version. Already, your local HD is likely carrying Philips’ 60-watt equivalent LED — the one with the yellow, space-age casing. I’ve been testing one out in my house and I have to tell you, I love the light. It’s warm, bright, and like all LEDs can be dimmed with no problems.

These bulbs are also getting smarter. Check out Katie Fehrenbacher’s story on Earth2Tech for an idea of what will be on display at the show, such as “networked light bulbs” and remotely controlled Wi-Fi-enabled bulbs.

Now, I do have some concerns — well, not concerns, but let’s call them queries — regarding these bulbs. First, they’re really heavy, so I wonder from a lifecycle perspective how much the added weight affects the carbon footprint of transporting these devices and how that balances off against the gains in light efficiency and bulb longevity. Also, I wonder about the economics of making and supplying these devices, and how that will prevent the bulbs from becoming as affordable as existing incandescents. One of the things that really killed telecommunications suppliers such as Nortel back in the early 2000s was that their product was getting so good they were running harder just to keep up. A new product would effectively replace 10 previous products, so unless you could charge 10 times more for that product you were losing revenues unless you gained more market share. Makers of incandescent bulbs counted on volume to squeeze out a small profit. They counted on bulbs dying out quickly and being replaced to keep the demand continually strong. LEDs, because of their long life (and I mean true long life, compared to those frauds called CFLs that don’t last nearly as long as manufacturer’s claim) really disrupt the business model. So it will be interesting to see how this all turns out.