Why the LED light bulb matters: Energy efficiency in North Carolina

By Nathan Daigle

Nathan Daigle
Nathan Daigle

The LED bulb has become one of the most visible symbols of energy efficiency, and since October is National Energy Efficiency Month, you may see signs and advertisements featuring LED lights.

But what you may not know is how much these light bulbs affect us here in North Carolina. From how many jobs we have in this state to how much we all pay for electricity, the environmental, social, and economic impacts of efficiency are hard to overstate.

I work for Cree, a global manufacturer of LEDs, LED lighting and advanced electronics for power and wireless applications, headquartered in Durham. My company employs approximately 2,500 in North Carolina, but these workers represents just a fraction of our state’s booming efficiency sector. In total, energy efficiency employs about 50,000 people. For comparison, that is about as many jobs as there are people in the city of Burlington.

The money we save from energy efficiency, stays local and helps grow our economy. It’s not just a little bit less expensive to meet our energy needs by reducing waste rather than increasing supply. It’s a lot less expensive: generally about two-to-three times less. Energy efficiency keeps the price of electricity low for everyone, and the jobs created by efficiency more than pay for themselves.

One shining example of this happening can be shown through a renovation project with the Food Bank of Central & Eastern North Carolina, where Cree provided a lighting solution for 69,000 square feet or dry warehouse space and 23,000 square feet of office space.

The LED lights generated a 48 percent savings for the food bank, are virtually maintenance free and more than pay for themselves, and installing the lights provides a host of workers with good-paying jobs.

But the win-win is even bigger than just the food bank saving money and local workers having jobs. When many projects like this one are completed, overall demand for electricity goes down. In the short run, that means utility companies don’t need to buy as much fuel or electricity from out of state. In the long run, it means utility companies don’t need to build as many new power plants. Fewer fossil power plants equals less air pollution. That also means we all save money because ratepayers ultimately foot the bill for utility company’s expenses. In other words, these kinds of projects reduce the impact to the environment, save people money, and contribute to the well-being of our community. This is why the LED bulb matters.

LED light bulbs are only one common example of energy efficiency. Efficiency can also be achieved in other ways. At Cree, for example, we work to improve our efficiency by optimizing our manufacturing lines and using controls and sensors to turn off idling equipment. You may be able to easily improve your home’s efficiency by simply programming your thermostat.

Indeed, efficiency drives North Carolina’s entire economy, and our state has significant room to improve. The American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy, for example, recently ranked our state 31st in the country in terms of efficiency. We fell one position from the year before.

We can do better. One way is through more city, school, and municipality investments in energy performance contracts. Such contracts guarantee that the cost of efficiency upgrades pay off quickly and that the savings more than outweigh the costs.

The next time National Energy Efficiency Month rolls around and you see the ads with light bulbs on them, I hope to be writing a follow-up story – about how our state has stepped up to save more energy than ever before.

Nathan Daigle is the director of Environmental Health and Safety for Cree Inc.