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02/20/07 12:00AM By Ruth Page
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(HOST) Energy conservation continues to be a factor in planning for our future energy needs, and commentator Ruth Page says that one new technology in particular is beginning to look like a genuinely bright idea.

(PAGE) In the U.S., it takes fifty-five billion dollars' worth of electricity to light our homes and work-places. That's twenty-two percent of the nation's total usage of electricity. That isn't the only reason I turn the lights off when I leave a room, or leave my home after sunset. It's habit. I grew up during the depression-era thirties, when turning off unneeded lights became a habit.

If only our beloved young had that habit. They waste money and energy massively. Some even keep their water heaters set so far above the recommended one hundred twenty degrees, the water comes out of their spigots almost as live steam. Who needs it?

I smiled broadly as I read an article in Science News recently about how LEDs can be used. LEDs, or light-emitting diodes, are safe, clean, tough, cheap, and long-lived. Some one-point-six billion people on this earth live in homes without electricity. Many have been reluctantly buying costly (and polluting) kerosene and candles to heat and light their homes. Now some have been introduced to LEDs. Studies show that 2-watt, battery-powered LEDs pay for themselves in one year or less.

So instead of using enough lighting-power to require a hundred large power plants, as we do now, we'll be able to switch to lighting that's downright cheap. LEDS can have a massive effect in industrial nations. They're much better even than fluorescents, which some of us use wherever possible.

I can hardly wait to get LEDs in my home. Think of the reduction in pollution. At present, we in the U.S. emit 450 million TONS of carbon dioxide, plus three million tons of the nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide that create smog.

Today, academics, government and industry are all experimenting with different ways LEDs can be used. Initially, they can reduce how long and how hot existing lamps burn. Next come solid-state technologies that are even more effective, and further experiments are underway. In time we may end up with ways to make our walls glow under a thin film (shades of science fiction)!

Our old incandescent light bulbs put only five percent of their energy into light; the rest is waste heat. Fluorescent tubes use some seventy percent less energy.

While amazing uses for LED lights in developed countries are being planned, they're already helping folks in poor countries. A foundation has provided LEDs to 14,000 homes in twelve countries, dropping their lighting costs close to zero. The LEDs last for years, while many Americans are always running to the store for more incandescents.

Ruth Page has been following environmental issues for twenty years. She's a long time Vermont resident and currently lives in Shelburne.

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