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Can energy efficiency brighten a dark economy?

Though part of the stimulus plan, it isn’t likely to create lots of new jobs anytime soon. Still, efficiency can have other big payoffs.

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DETAIL WORK: Steve DelPrato, an employee of Lighting Science, assembles LED bulbs at the company’s office in Westampton, N.J. A bulb lasts about 15 years, says the firm’s founder and CEO.

Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor

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After a decade working in the lighting industry in Singapore and the United States, Govi Rao decided to strike out on his own. His idea? To turn LEDs, those funny glowing lights in video games and digital watches, into a mainstream, environmentally friendly alternative to traditional lighting.

In 2007, he bought four LED (light-emitting diode) manufacturers in quick succession and set up his new outfit, Lighting Science, with the help of California investors. But with the economy tumbling since, his timing looked awful.

So why is Mr. Rao smiling? Because he expects the energy-efficiency parts of the $819 billion stimulus package the House passed Wednesday to jump-start sales, which would bring down his costs and, he hopes, make Lighting Science a world leader in an emerging, energy-saving technology.

It may be a pipe dream. Of all the long-term, “new economy” investments envisioned in the House legislation, such as Internet modernization and renewable energy, the roughly $30 billion set aside for energy efficiency is the least likely to generate the kinds of secure high-tech jobs that President Obama has talked about. Manufacturing of lights and other energy-saving devices is likely to move offshore, analysts say.

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