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Study: LEDs More Expensive, Less Available in Low-Income Areas

Study: LEDs More Expensive, Less Available in Low-Income Areas

This probably seems like a great big ‘duh’ moment – high-efficiency lighting is less affordable for low-income households. But a University of Michigan study confirmed much more than that – energy-efficient lightbulbs are actually less available in high-poverty urban areas.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 set in motion a defacto incandescent ban to promote more efficient lighting options. And while subsequent legislation delayed implementation of the ban, the bill compelled OEMs to fast-track LED development and consumers to explore next-gen lighting options … to a point.

CFLs are an aesthetic (and environmental) nightmare, and many consumers balk at spending $5+ for a single A-19 LED bulb – not when incandescent bulbs can still be had at .25 apiece. So residential solid-state lighting hasn’t really caught on in low-income areas.

But it goes deeper than that. It turns out that LED bulbs cost about twice as much in the highest-poverty areas. This is because big-box and large retail chains that sell discounted LED bulbs are typically absent from these low-income locales.

U-M researchers compared the accessibility of Wal-Mart, Home Depot, hardware stores, and variety stores like Family Dollar and Dollar General to mini marts, corner delis and liquor stores. The latter was far more prevalent in low-income areas, and the smaller retailers stocked the most expensive high-efficiency lightbulbs.

“In fact,” claimed the study, “none of the small retail stores in the poorest sector (40 percent or more of the households living below the federal poverty level) carried LEDs, while 92 percent of them carried less-efficient incandescent and halogen bulbs.”

In the poorest areas, the researchers found a $6.24 mean price difference between incandescent and halogen lamps (IHLs) and LEDs.

Socioeconomic factors are the culprit here – the technology, itself, plays little to no role – but these huge pricing disparities will have a big impact on the greater dissemination of solid-state lighting.

Read more about the study here: