Three years ago, while researching lighting options for a building he was renovating, Aaron Birkland came across something he hadn’t seen before: an LED filament light bulb. He described it in a detailed blog at GBA, explaining the bulb’s new approach to using LED chips and reporting an amazing efficiency of nearly 120 lumens per watt (lm/w).
That efficiency was a result of the bulb’s unique design. Instead of clusters of LEDs (light-emitting diodes) arranged in the bulb enclosure, filament bulbs use strings of LEDs housed in a thermally conductive gas, such as helium, that effectively dissipates heat.
At the time (2015), the bulbs were beginning to trickle into the U.S. Now, LED filament bulbs with almost, but not quite, that level of efficiency are easy to find. Amazon, for example, sells a six-pack of 90 lm/watt LED filament bulbs for $25.
But the technology has taken a huge leap forward in the Middle East, where the lighting giant Philips (a Netherlands-headquartered company now using the name Signify) teamed up with the government of Dubai to produce what’s known as the “Dubai lamp.” It’s capable of producing 200 lumens per watt, making it more than 13 times as efficient as the incandescent bulb you might find in your hall closet.
The catch? These bulbs are available only in Dubai, as Home Energy senior executive editor Alan Meier explained in a recent magazine column.
No plans for wider distribution
While visiting Dubai, one of seven emirates in the United Arab Emirates, Meier picked up 10 of the bulbs in a big box store. They would be of no use here because they’re designed for 240-volt, 50 hertz, electrical circuits, rather than the 120-volt, 60-hertz circuits common to U.S. houses. But Meier said he would be taking the bulbs to Europe where they could be examined in detail.
“The government of Dubai made an exclusive agreement with Philips, basically requiring the Dubai lamp to be installed in all new buildings for several years,” he wrote. “It’s a peculiar agreement and sure to cause installation headaches, because this small family of lamps cannot possibly meet all of the common applications.”
The bulbs will save a lot of energy, but the requirement that all new buildings in the Emirate use the Dubai Lamp has professional lighting designers there grousing about a lack of choice, according to an article posted at Lux.
“If we’re doing a five-star hotel and the interior designer specifies some really nice table lamps, we’re limited to 3000K or 6500K, a CRI [color rendering index] of 80, and not dimmable, in a handful of different shapes,” Mark Vowles, director of lighting consultancy at Nulty+, told Lux. “Reducing energy and rooting out dangerous products is important, so in that sense I suppose it’s a step in the right direction, but it’s the wrong way to get there.”
Another person complained that the directive was announced without any efforts to consult with professionals in the lighting field.
The Dubai lamp, in fact, is available in very few variations. A Philips website describing the bulbs lists only three types: a standard A60, a candle (B35), and an MR16 (a track lighting bulb). The company says that the bulbs should last 25,000 hours, contain no mercury or other hazardous materials, and reduce energy use by as much as 90%.
The bulbs emit light ranging from 3000° Kelvin (on the warmer end of cool white) to 6500°K (much cooler, closer to daylight) and have a color rendering index of 80 (a CRI of 100 is best).
Meier could not get anyone to explain why these bulbs can’t be found outside of Dubai. GBA contacted Signify’s media relations office in the U.S. to ask whether the bulbs might at some point be available in North America. Matt Marcus, the director of integrated communications, said in an email: “In terms of availability, the Dubai Lamp was part of a co-development with the Dubai government, and there are no plans for further roll-out outside Dubai. At the same time, we have a very robust portfolio of high-quality, energy-efficient and cost-effective LED bulbs available in the U.S. market to meet our customers’ needs.”
Marcus didn’t explain the company’s reasoning.
There is plenty of information about the bulb posted online, and if you want to buy them and you live in Dubai, that’s easy, too. The LuLu Webstore offers several options. A lamp that looks just like the one at the top of this column, a 3-watt bulb, costs 25 Arab Emirates dirhams (AED), or $6.81 U.S. dollars at the current exchange rate.