Saturday, May 30, 2009

Light Bulbs: Incandescents, Fluorescents & LEDs

Thomas Edison introduced his incandescent bulb in 1879. It is highly inefficient, generating 90% heat and 10% light. It has been said that "The only thing worse is a candle flame." The spiral-shaped compact fluorescent produces the same amount of light as the incandescent with one-quarter the energy. The incandescent lasts for years, provides light in an array of hues, and, by lowering electricity bills, pays for itself in about seven months. The light-emitting diode, costs even more but lasts far longer than compact fluorescents. LED bulbs have been used mostly for consumer electronics and in commercial applications. The LED is eclipsing the compact fluorescent as the cutting-edge bulb. Wal-Mart Stores has started selling a consumer LED bulb that uses just seven watts of electricity and claims to last for more than 13 years. It costs around $35.

Lighting accounts for some 20% of residential electricity use in the U.S., yet about 80% of all bulbs sold to U.S. consumers are incandescents, which often cost less than 25 cents apiece, about one-tenth the price of a compact fluorescent. Most people buy the cheapest bulb because they may not be cheap in the long run, but they are cheap for what people have in their wallets and purses. A recent federal law [Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007] will ban incandescent bulbs for most uses by 2014. It requires roughly 25 percent greater efficiency for light bulbs, phased in from 2012 through 2014. This effectively bans the sale of most current incandescent light bulbs.

Some want to use high electricity prices as a tool to force consumers to purchase the more efficient bulbs. We disagree. Innovation can occur without hurting the family budget. For instance, the national interest was served by using legislation to force the innovation. (WSJ, 5/29/09)

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