The Empire State Building is getting a lighting makeover fit for the 21st century. This year, the owners of the building are replacing the 400 standard lamps installed on the outside of the building for the 1976 bicentennial with 1,200 new LED fixtures. According to the New York Times, the new LED lights are expected to save 75% in annual energy costs and will last three to six times longer than the current lights.
Since the new lights can be controlled instantaneously by computer, the building will be able to sport a number of brilliant lighting effects. Rainbows, ripples and bursts of color could become periodic spectacles for residents of New York. Some fear, however, that the new lights could turn the building into the kitschy sideshow of the New York skyline. But the building owners have promised that this will not be the case and that preserving the dignity of the building will be a priority. The tower, after all, is a symbol of pride not only for New York City but the entire nation.
The project should be completed by the fall, around the very same time when 1 World Trade Center will become the tallest building in the city. The project also coincides with a number of initiatives around the world to set higher efficiency standards for light bulbs. The State of California has implemented a phase-out of 100 watt bulbs this year and the rest of the United States is set to follow by 2014. Moreover, most European countries have already banned the sale of incandescent bulbs. And in October 2012, China will cease imports and sales of certain incandescent bulbs that the government deems environmentally harmful.
In December 2011, the United States’ policy to phase out energy-inefficient bulbs came under some debate when Congressional Republicans opposed funding the policy. In the end, a deal was struck between Republicans and Democrats that effectively put the 2007 law mandating the energy-efficient bulbs on hold until this coming October. According to Republicans, government standards should not determine how Americans light their homes. However, since light bulb manufacturers are already preparing for the 2014 deadline when 100 watt bulbs can no longer be sold, the long-term effects of Republican opposition are likely to be minimal.
Though we aren’t ready to implement LED technology in our living rooms quite yet, the Empire State Building’s new look will certainly turn some heads and may prove to be a promising publicity stunt in favor of LEDs. Perhaps in ten to fifteen years, we’ll see states and countries begin banning all non-LED lights. Perhaps the next generation will know Thomas Edison as the great inventor of defunct technologies, the way that we might think of Johannes Gutenberg.
We can’t tell where the future of LEDs will lead us, and for now it’s probably just worth our time to sit back and enjoy the colorful show. So next time you’re in New York, make sure you take a look at the Empire State Building. It’s guaranteed to be spectacular.
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