Monday, February 21, 2011

Why You Need To Learn About ESL Light Bulbs

Vu1 ESL Light Bulb
Just when we're all getting used to CFLs, LEDs, hybrid halogen/CFL bulbs, and all of the other new lighting technologies, along comes ESL, full of potential to revolutionize lighting....again.

With all of the fanfare over the emergence and potential of LED bulbs, you might be asking how lighting can get better.  LEDs run cool, are more efficient than CFL in many applications, and support new form factors and instant on like the good old incandescent.  What's left for lighting and how can a new technology find it's niche?

Well, CFLs and LEDs have their shortcomings, and ESL promises to address many of the shortcomings while offering all of the benefits.
Vu1 (pronounced View One) made a splash in early 2011 announcing their first UL certified ESL bulb (this after a "mini-splash" in 2009 when they announced their product).  ESL, short for Electron Stimulated Luminescence, is full of promise.

Is There Room For Another Efficient Lighting Technology?

The short answer is a resounding YES.  We've discussed the limitations of CFLs and LEDs.  CFLs have a 'slow start' problem, wear out quickly if turned on and off a lot, and have mercury.  LEDs are expensive, haven't reached their full efficiency potential in lumens per watt, and it is hard to find bulbs with a nice 2700K color.

Both LEDs and CFLs continue to make strides towards lowering costs and improving quality, but Vu1's ESL might hit the market with some of these limitations solved.

Specifically, Vu1 promises a nice laundry list of feature and capabilities:
  • Light quality comparable to incandescent
  • Efficiency that (might) meet or exceeds LEDs (more below)
  • Fully dimmable
  • Instant-on
  • Long life (greater than incandescent, similar to CFL, but less than LED)
  • Entry cost less than LED
Vu1 is really playing up the light quality aspect, with the instant on capability and nice color rendering.  This comparison from the Vu1 website is making the rounds. However, this comparison does not indicate the color temperature of the CFL and LED simulations.

ESL Bulbs Too Good To Be True?

That list above sounds like a panacea, but looking at the first bulb to be released, we see a few areas where improvement is needed.

First, initial efficiency doesn't seem to stack up with CFLs.  The R30 bulb listed on the vu1 website indicates 19.5 watts to produce a 600 lumen light.  EcoSmart R30 CFLs produce 650 lumens on 14 watts.

Cost-wise, the R30 is said to retail for about $20.  Compare that to the EcoSmart CFL at less than $5, or an LED that lasts 6 times longer for $40 and it is clear that these initial ESLs are not as economical.

What Does The Future Hold?

Despite the initial gaps, it is impressive for a new technology to immediately be so competitive (at least on the spec sheet).  It is probably safe to say that prices will drop, and the product will be refined.

But even today, those looking to avoid the limitations of CFL and LED while maintaining a high quality light now have a viable alternative - the ESL.


  1. Very cogent assessment Mike. I am banking on Vu1 to keep improving the technology and give CFL and LED a real run for the money.

    Look where CFLs were when they were first introduced: The color was horrible. They came up to full brightness slowly. They did not dim properly. They have improved a great deal in the interim.

    LEDs were even worse: The first LEDs introduced were so dim they rivaled candlelight. Now they are pretty good - but expensive.

    ESLs look like what the consumer wants: a replacement for incandescent. If they can pull that off they will be light years ahead of the competition.

    We'll see when we actually can try them out for ourselves...

    Patiently waiting.

    1. In fact if vu1 gave it a try thay can repir the esl indefunatly.

  2. Thank you for the comment. I've been surprised by the popularity of this post, which hopefully translates into the level of interest in this product.

    I am submitting a request to get a bulb from Vu1 for a test and hands-on review on this blog. I'll be sure to post updates.

  3. Someone linked to this post on Yahoo Finance in the Vu1 message board section. If you get a test bulb I'd (we'd) like to see you post about it there.


  4. What many may be forgetting is that ESL bulbs would in practice be more efficient than CFL in many situations. CFL bulbs take several minutes to warm up to maximum light output, so during that time they would actually be less efficient