When ultra efficient LED light bulbs emerged on the scene they were hailed as a brighter and greener way to light the world, but research announced Monday by Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico shows that might not necessarily be true. These physicists aren’t some lingering agents of Thomas Edison’s – they of course acknowledge LEDs are a superior technology – instead the researchers show in their paper that the potential problem lies in history and human nature.
“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,” Sandia physicist Jeff Tsao said in a press release.
While the potential for cheaper energy could increase the quality of life for billions around the globe, it also could mean an increase in energy usage. Tsao says that since the 16th century, with each revolution in lighting technology humans have used more light, instead of using the same amount of light for cheaper.
“Over the past three centuries… 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.”
It may seem like the developed world has plenty of light now, but the researchers claim an older population with diminished eye sight may crank up the lights and others might use it to brighten the dark days of winter. Tsao also says that improvements in lighting technology might also help us decrease light pollution and doesn’t necessarily imply the future will light-saturated; he says modernized lighting gives humans more control, which could mean darker skies.
“More fuel-efficient cars don’t necessarily mean we drive less, we may drive more,” said paper co-author Jerry Simmons in the same release. “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.”
The research appears in the September issue of the Journal of Physics D: Applied Physics.