The everlasting lamp, a commercial disaster?

In the twentieth century the average light bulb had a life of 1000 hours, the low-energy light bulbs of today easily last ten times as long. Fluorescent lamps also last several tens of thousands of hours. And with a life of 50,000 hours or more, LED lamps are even harder to wear out.

So how can the lamp business stay profitable at all if this trend continues and lamps hardly ever need replacing anymore? Dubbed ‘socket saturation’, the phenomenon describes how the sale of lamps across the board has dropped due to the commercial success of long-lasting (LED) lamps.

Can a lamp factory still turn a profit if our lamps last an eternity? As of yet, there is no cut-and-dried answer to deal with dropping lamp sales, a fact recently confirmed by Canadian author and journalist J.B. MacKinnon: a solid and attractive business model for long-lasting lamps is yet to be developed, even if certain trends are emerging on the fringes of the lights business that may be starting to move in that direction…

Trend 1: light as a service

A leading newspaper recently ran the headline ’Soon we’ll be buying washes instead of Miele washers’ in the - new? – ‘circular economy’ section. ‘Why Philips is no longer selling lamps’ belongs in the same category. MacKinnon cites the example of the Irish company UrbanVolt that provides the hotel-restaurant-café sector, shopping centres, etc. with light as a service. It goes roughly like this: UrbanVolt equips your power points with high-quality LEDs free of charge and also bears the maintenance costs for the first five years, this in return for a percentage - also for a five-year period - of the generous savings on the energy bill of the hotel, restaurant, café or shopping centre in question.

Trend 2: LEDs in useful gadgets

The second trend that tries to find a commercial way round the ever increasing life of lamps is called ‘gadgetization’. The central idea is that you no longer sell the lamps as such but integrate the LEDs in gadgets that offer some form of added value.

Examples include the LEDs in bicycle safety light sets, ‘atmosphere packs’ for children’s room, etc. This approach also comes with an additional commercial advantage: just like with smartphones or digital TVs, consumers will want upgrades every few months. The US is one of the markets this model enables ‘light providers’ to bring lamp life back to within commercially viable limits.

Is your low-energy, LED or fluorescent lamp worn out? Then take it to the container park or to your local Recyclepoint.