On a factory floor in Pittsburgh’s exurbs, Jim Wassel clutches a tiny, but bright, light. He might as well be choking the life out of the compact fluorescent lighting industry.

In the near future, Wassel expects to develop a screw-in adaptable light-emitting diode fixture for home use.

And Wassel, the chief science officer of Ellwood City, Pennsylvania-based Appalachian Lighting Systems – don’t bother with the Mr. Spock jokes; he’s heard them all – is the world’s top innovator in LED lighting, according to industry giants like Phillips.

Whatever compact fluorescent can do, LED’s can do much, much, much better.

Cutting Energy Use by 80 Percent

An LED device uses about one-third as much energy as a compact fluorescent light (CFL) to generate the same amount of light – and about one-sixth as much as an incandescent device.

When Appalachian Lighting Systems changed the lights earlier this year at the Allegheny County Jail in Pittsburgh, the facility immediately realized an 83 percent savings in lighting costs.

Ellwood City, which is running the United States’ – and possibly the world’s – longest-running LED streetlight test project, reports similar savings.

And there’s no worry about that pesky mercury problem that haunts the growth of CFLs. When an LED expires, its owner can just throw them out, not that he’ll live long enough for that.

One of the keys to manufacturing a long-lasting LED is diverting excess heat away from the device. The cooler it runs, the longer it lasts. Wassel has solved this problem to the degree that his devices can run from three to 10 times that of a CFL – about 20 to 70 years.

In other words, it will enable people to pass light bulbs down to their children. And considering what has been happening to most Americans’ retirement accounts recently, that might end up being all the entire inheritance for children of baby boomers and Generation Xers.

If every home, office, classroom, streetlight and stoplight in the United States used one-sixth as much energy to operate, it would be revolutionary.

Energy Conservation Transcending Politics

It will likely be cheaper too, because the cost of energy can’t be reduced by producing more energy, but by conservation, as demonstrated in the past year through the price of gasoline which fell from $4 a gallon last summer to $2 a gallon now, not because of increased production, but decreased demand.

When – not if – the USA is wired for LEDs and using one-sixth the electricity it uses today, suddenly, cleaner energy sources, such as wind, solar and nuclear will become more feasible.

Just as importantly in a polarized political climate, LEDs are a solution that transcends Republican and Democrat. They’re a market-driven solution and would allow America to maintain its quality of life, so conservatives should embrace them.

They will also take a big bite out of greenhouse gas emissions, which should appeal to environmentalists.

And of all the readily available technology, it’s likely that none carry the promise of a bigger conservation bang than the little lights that Wassel creates in a tiny factory in western Pennsylvania.