Illumination from light-emitting diodes (LEDs) used to be reserved only for commercial or industrial uses that could justify the high cost of the LED -- the typical example being where the bulb was accessible only with a lift truck so replacement costs were substantial. Today that picture is changing as more manufacturers develop LED bulbs able to stand in for ordinary 40 and 60-W incandescent bulbs. But LED bulbs remain pricey. The LED bulb from Philips that won the Dept. of Energy's coveted L Prize debuted at a price of about $60 and still fetches around $40 in stores.

A new entrant in the LED bulb category could help make prices come down to earth.  LED maker Cree Inc. recently released a light bulb replacement built around the firm's LED Filament Tower Technology -- basically an array of LEDs positioned to give omni-directional light approximating that of an ordinary incandescent bulb. The Cree bulb has a shape that looks like a traditional light bulb and is designed to last 25,000 hours or 25 times longer than typical incandescent light bulbs.

The facet of the bulb that is getting the most news coverage, though, is its retail price: $9.97 for the warm white 40-W replacement, $12.97 for the 60-W warm white replacement and $13.97 for the 60-W day light. The Cree LED bulbs are said to save 84% of the energy compared to traditional incandescents. Cree claims that by replacing the incandescent bulbs with Cree LED bulbs in a home’s five most frequently used light fixtures, consumers can save $61 per year on electric bills. (Based on Cree LED bulb 60-W replacements at 9.5 W, $0.11/kWhr, 25,000-hour lifetime and average usage of six hours daily.

Artist's view of the Cree Filament Tower.Artist's view of the Cree Filament Tower.Cree says its LED bulbs are easily dimmable with most standard incandescent dimmers. The Cree LED light bulb (60-W incandescent replacement) delivers 800 lumens and consumes 9.5 W and is available in warm white (2700K) and day light (5000K) color temperatures. The Cree LED light bulb (40-W incandescent replacement) delivers 450 lumens and consumes only 6 W and is available in 2700K color temperature. All products are available exclusively at The Home Depot. Or they can be purchased online at www.creebulb.com.

The Wall Street Journal also noted the release of the new LED bulbs.