Energy Efficiency energy efficient LED lights, CFLs and halogen bulbs give consumers more options

Published on March 13th, 2011 | by Tina Casey


Light Bulb Battle Heats Up and We Should Care Because…?

March 13th, 2011 by  

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energy efficient LED lights, CFLs and halogen bulbs give consumers more options

Statistical evidence of widespread light bulb hoarding has yet to emerge, but the anecdotes make such colorful copy that you would think everyone in the U.S. is rushing out to buy those good old fashioned incandescent light bulbs before they disappear. Seriously, let’s give ourselves a little credit for having some good old fashioned common sense. At least one survey shows that a significant majority of Americans are already trying new energy efficient lighting in advance of the federally mandated incandescent bulb phase-out.  There are a couple of obvious reasons – saving money and conserving energy – and there may also be some underlying currents at work, too.

Light Bulbs and Household Hazards

Part of the light bulb ruckus is over the small amounts of mercury used in the new high efficiency compact fluorescent light bulbs. Detergents, cleansers, insecticides, lawn products, paint thinner, bleach, prescription drugs, nail polish, hobby supplies and scores of other household products contain varying amounts of hazardous substances. Most Americans seem perfectly at ease with the idea that some  household products contain hazardous substances. In fact, some people passionately cling to their favorite hazardous substance-containing products.

Light Bulbs and Lifestyle

Compact fluorescent light bulbs are just one energy efficient alternative. Light-emitting diode (LED) technology and halogen technology are others. LEDs in particular are opening up whole new avenues for amateur home decorators and do-it-yourself fans in creative lighting design. We Americans are known as home fixer-uppers, do-it-yourselfers and gadget lovers, which could be another reason why the survey showed such widespread interest. The idea of sticking a high efficiency light bulb in a socket and being reasonably assured that you will  never have to change it until you move (the average American moves 11.7 times in a lifetime) is also probably very appealing to most people.

Light Bulbs and People

Speaking of people, what is this thing about people? The new phaseout does not apply to individuals. It applies to companies. It phases in new energy efficiency standards for light bulb manufacturers. U.S. manufacturers had to decide if it was worthwhile to invest in the R&D needed to produce more efficient incandescent bulbs that could be retailed at a reasonable price. None of them were interested. People who really, really care about incandescent light bulbs will find a way to get them  for as long as somebody, somewhere, continues to make them. As for the rest of us, most people seem ready to move on.

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

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  • lighthouse

    I agree with Heather (in comment),
    and I think the overall picture of “avoiding energy waste” is being lost here.

    CFLs, LEDs etc certainly have their advantages –
    but the “switch all your lights and save lots of money” campaigns are like
    saying “Eat only bananas and save lots of money!”
    Regular cheap incandescents have their advantages too.

    It is a light bulb “ban” that’s coming:
    Any light bulb not meeting the energy usage standard is banned.
    Yes, energy efficient halogen incandescent replacements are allowed, but
    still have some constructional and appearance differences, a whiter light output etc compared with regular bulbs, apart from
    costing much more for the small savings, which is why neither
    consumers or governments really like them, since they have been around for a while now without being sold much.

    No light bulbs should be banned:
    There is no present or future shortage of energy sources for electricity justifying telling what paying consumers can use,
    especially since the overall USA energy savings from light bulb regulations are less than 1% anyway,
    based on the US Dept of Energy’s own statistics ( )
    -remember that politicians keep including non-incandescent street and industrial lighting in the usual high US usage percentages quoted.

    Much greater, and much more relevant, energy waste savings arise from effectively organized electricity generation and grid distribution, and from reducing the unnecessary use of appliances:
    rather than from stopping people in their choice of what appliance to buy and use.

    • Tina Casey

      lighthouse, thank you for your comment, but you are misreading the legislation. It applies to manufacturers, not consumers. Manufacturers were asked to meet new efficiency standards using any technology that would get the job done. They decided that it was not worth the investment in R&D to develop advanced incandescent technology that could meet the new standards.

  • Heather

    I am all for energy conservation, but not at the cost of exposing my family to the high levels of Electromagnetic Frequencies (EMF) emitted by CFLs and potentially to extremely toxic mercury. Just because most households already expose themselves to lots of toxic substances doesn’t mean they should have to add ONE MORE toxic product to their home. My family uses no pesticides, eats organic, uses only natural cleaning and cosmetic products and will have nothing to do with CFLs in our home. We are phasing in LEDs in some areas and hoping the prices of LEDs go down soon. If needed, we will be incandescent hoarders.
    Also, what’s to become of the ever increasing amounts of mercury going into landfills as a result of CFL use and disposal? You can’t believe that the average american household is really going to take their old bulbs to recycling centers, can you?

    • Tina Casey

      Thank you Heather for that insightful comment. There are no perfect alternatives.

    • Brian P

      LEDs may have a high upfront cost, but even at the current price, they’re way cheaper than hoarding incandescents (energy costs+light bulb costs) over time.

      Also, I think back-tracking on the incandescent phase-out is pointless. Most companies are already focusing on efficient lighting and all the big players have to meet the standards in europe/asia anyways. I think companies also realize as soon as the tea party is ousted the phase-out would go right back into effect.

      • Tina Casey

        Brian, yes that’s the idea. The “legacy” lighting companies can see the writing on the wall – there is no growth in the global market for incandescents.

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