An End to the Edison Light Bulb...
More Energy Efficient Light Bulbs Are Coming
Did the energy bill passed by Congress and signed by the President in December 2007 declare the incandescent light bulb dead? Maybe yes, maybe no. Beginning in 2012, stores will no longer be able to sell cheap, but inefficient incandescent light bulbs that are found in nearly every home. But, the changeover will be gradual.
Incandescent bulbs have been around for 100 years, but are able to convert only 5 percent of the energy consumed to light. The other 95 percent is lost as heat.
Under the energy bill, incandescent bulbs disappear slowly beginning in 2012, when the 100 watt bulb is phased out. In 2013, the 75 watt bulb goes and a year later, the 60 and 40 watt bulbs are eliminated. By 2020, the only bulbs allowed will be those that match the efficiency of compact fluorescent bulbs and similar technologies. The Alliance to Save Energy estimates that installing more efficient light bulbs will save consumers about $6 billion a year in energy costs.
Congress has not specifically outlawed incandescent bulbs, only inefficient ones. Many of the products are already on the market, and more will be available before the deadline kicks in. In February 2008, General Electric reported it was developing a high-efficiency incandescent light bulb that will radiate more than twice the light of conventional ones and be available for sale by 2010. The new bulb would be comparable to 40 and 60 watt incandescent bulbs.
So far, consumers have been slow to give new products a chance. Compact fluorescents, for example, are already prominently featured in stores. Many retailers and utilities have promoted the economics of the bulbs — while compact fluorescent bulbs may cost six times the price of incandescent bulbs, they last six times as long and use far less energy. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a 15 watt compact fluorescent bulb costs about $3.50, lasts 12,000 hours with a lifetime cost of $18, which includes energy and maintenance. A 60 watt conventional bulb (the equivalent of a 15 watt compact fluorescent) costs 50 cents, lasts 1,000 hours with a lifetime cost of $92.
Industry officials estimate only 15 percent of bulbs used in homes are compact fluorescents. Compact fluorescent lights have some issues with light quality. They contain mercury, and few recycling centers will accept them. So at the end of life, they still pose an environmental hazard, but so do regular fluorescent lights that have been used for years.
Lighting manufacturers are putting research dollars into light-emitting diodes — or L.E.D.s. They operate with chips made of nontoxic materials and last for about 50,000 hours, compared with 1,000 hours for an incandescent and 6,000 for a compact fluorescent. A tiny L.E.D. can shed as much light as an incandescent bulb and they are extremely energy efficient. But today, they are too expensive to use for all lighting applications. And, while manufacturers are able to make pretty good colored L.E.D.s — the kind that are already available for Christmas tree lights — they have yet to perfect a white L.E.D. that would be useful for lighting homes. Manufacturers are working to get the costs down and the white lighting quotient up. Most predict that white L.E.D.’s will be commercially viable in a few years.
For More Information
Efficient Lighting Strategies: Wise Design Choices Can Meet Lighting Needs and Save Energy U.S. Department of Energy, Building Technologies Program
Consumer Guide to Home Energy Savings – Lighting From the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy Lighting