Monday, July 25, 2011

Light bulb regulation: a good step forward?

I have to say that I have mixed feelings about government guidelines that seek to ban incandescent light bulbs.  Sure, we're dealing with century-old technology but why not just subsidize the shift, as many communities have, to compact fluorescent light bulbs?

That said, the LA Times recently came out with support for light bulb standards.  I'm reprinting it here because I think it's a reasonable argument:


Light-bulb standards equal energy efficiency

Resistance to light-bulb efficiency standards is foolish and contrary to the nation's goal of energy independence.

Refrigerators and cars have become more energy-efficient. Water heaters and windows have too. So it's strange that so many politicians cling to old-style incandescent light bulbs.

Contrary to what congressional critics have been saying, a law passed during the
George W. Bush administration does not ban incandescent bulbs. Rather, it phases in higher requirements for energy efficiency that the old incandescents — in use for more than 100 years since they were developed by Thomas Edison — do not meet because much of their energy creates heat rather than light. Starting in 2012, the traditional 100-watt bulbs go off the market, followed over the next two years by lower-wattage bulbs. California is moving ahead even more quickly, phasing out the 100-watt bulb this year.

Once the phase-out is fully in place, the law will save consumers about $12 billion a year in energy costs; the average California household will save $124 a year. And more than utility bills are at stake. Conservation is one of the fastest and most effective paths to energy independence. The bulb law will save the country more energy than it takes to power a third of the state of California.
And even though compact fluorescent bulbs contain a small amount of mercury, making them harder to dispose of, the law will reduce mercury pollution overall by eliminating the need for 30 coal-fired power plants.

The incandescent bulb is an old favorite, shedding a warm glow. It's cheap to purchase (though other bulbs ultimately cost a lot less). That's why politicians have begun efforts to repeal the bulb law. After one such bill failed in the House last week,
Republicans revived and passed it in the form of an amendment to the Energy Department's appropriations bill, stripping out funding for enforcing the law. That amendment faces more resistance in the Senate, but the move has given impetus to efforts in several states to get around the law by exempting bulbs manufactured and sold within state boundaries. Such a measure passed the Texas Legislature; others are pending in Pennsylvania and South Carolina.

It remains to be seen whether those state bills would have much impact. The light-bulb industry supports the new energy standards and has been closing old production lines and improving technologies. An incandescent-halogen hybrid looks the same as the traditional bulb yet meets the federal standard. New fluorescents give off a warmer light than they used to. Light-emitting diode, or LED, bulbs initially cost a bundle — $30 or so — but provide the desired glow, last decades, are dimmable and use a fraction of the energy.

Many opponents complain that the bulb law is an unwarranted government intrusion on their right to buy the product of their choice. But it's actually about setting standards for production, which the government does in many areas. Cribs must meet safety standards; new homes must meet energy standards; roofs have to meet fire standards.

Reducing both energy dependence and pollution is vital to the nation's future and collective health; on balance, individual consumers give up little and gain much. Edison himself, ever the forward thinker, probably would have approved.


  1. 1. RE "Not ban incandescents"

    Yes it is in effect a ban on incandescents:

    Including Halogen etc replacements, ALL known incandescents will
    be banned before 2020 on the specifications.
    The halogen etc replacements have different light quality anyway and cost much more for marginal savings, so neither Govmts or Users like them - as seen in the poor availability in post-ban EU.

  2. RE "old" light bulb technology

    Old "obsolescent" incandescent technology is also safe exactly from being old and Well Known Simple technology,
    compared to new complex lighting technology, certainly with advantages too, but not necessarily proven as always safe (CFLs mercury, fire, radiation issues, LEDs lead and arsenic issues ).
    If it ain't broke, don't fix it..

    Where there is a Problem - Deal with the Problem:
    Light bulbs don't burn coal or (hopefully) release fumes - power plants might, but not all users are the cause of that.
    Compare with gasolene powered cars.

  3. RE Supposed savings

    1. Regulators always take the most COMMONLY used lights and multiply supposed savings accordingly. American 45-bulb household has many
    other lights. Less usage means less savings, apart from breakage, losses etc
    ( onwards )

    2. A typical CFL has twice the so-called power factor (not same as power rating) of an incandescent, which means it
    uses twice the energy at the power plant to what your meter says - which you eventually have to pay for.

    3. There are many other reasons, too many to cite here, why the savings don't hold either for society (less than 1% US energy usage,
    2% grid electricity) or for consumers, using DOE and other official statistics
    There are as seen much more relevant ways to save energy (in generation, grid distribution, real consumption waste).

    4. Not only do consumers pay more for the light bulbs as an initial cost but are also being being forced to pay for them, via taxpayer CFL

    5. Regardless of energy savings:
    Little Money savings for consumers anyway.
    That is because electricity companies are being subsidised (again by consumers as taxpayers) or allowed to directly raise Bill rates, to
    compensate for any reduced electricity use, as already seen both federally and in California, Ohio etc, and before them in the UK and
    other European countries
    ( as referenced
    *California* = )

    Of course,
    saving energy or money isn't the ONLY reason to choose anything anyway, there are as said better ways to save energy, and there are in this case light quality and other differences between bulbs including regular v. halogen incandescents
    (also noting, as said, that all incandescent technology IS in fact effectively banned before 2020 see regulations