In a step toward greater energy efficiency, North Carolina-based Cree Inc. this week launched a series of LED light bulbs, the least expensive of which is below $10.

Cree calls its new product "the biggest thing since the light bulb."

The company says that the new bulb looks like and lights up like the ubiquitous incandescent bulb, which the company's Vice President of Corporate Marketing Mike Watson said is key to its appeal.

"Consumers are fairly confused and frustrated. They have a product that they really like. The incandescent bulb has been around for 130 years," he said.

Alternatives to the inefficient incandescent bulb have failed to catch consumers' imagination so far.

Their harsh white light has earned many of them the epithet "frankenbulb." But Cree has designed its new bulb to have the same glass dome of the incandescent, along with shatterproof coating. The LED panel is in the center of the glass dome so the light is dispersed in all directions much like the filament of a traditional bulb.

Cree's 40-watt bulb with warm white light costs $9.97, while its 60-watt bulbs cost $3 to $4 more.

"It's relatively well known that breaking a $10 barrier for an innovative new product gets consumers to try it. It's a price point that gets consumers to try it, and when they see that it works, they will start to convert to it," Watson said.

A 25,000-hour life
While pointing out that there are other LED bulbs at similar prices in the market, Marianne DiMascio of the Appliance Standards Awareness Project (ASAP) said having a bulb at that cost is a big deal in the mind-set of the consumer.

"I just think that LEDs are becoming more affordable for consumers. If they buy this bulb for $9.97, they will cover that cost in the first year, and they have the bulb for the next 20 years, [and] that will bring them cost savings in the amount of energy that they use," DiMascio said.

Cree's bulb is 84 percent more efficient than an incandescent and on par with other LEDs on the market. It has a life of 25,000 hours.

"Even at 50 cents a bulb, you need 25 of these for every LED, and the operating costs is one-fifth," said Steve Nadel, executive director of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy (ACEEE). Nadel thinks the product will accelerate savings in terms of energy efficiency, as people who have resisted buying compact fluorescent bulbs may find the new LED attractive.

Phasing out the incandescent, Cree's ultimate goal, will be a more gradual process, he said.

Nadel expects that the new product will help utilities offer more incentives for consumers to move to LEDs. "This will encourage other players to cut costs; otherwise, they will lose market share," he said.

The new product has been given a thumbs-up by rating agencies like UBS, Credit Agricole and Goldman Sachs.

UBS said in a statement that the $10 mark was crossed a year earlier than expected.

"People have been saying that price will come down to below $10, but I didn't expect it so quickly," Nadel said.

Reprinted from Climatewire with permission from Environment & Energy Publishing, LLC., 202-628-6500