Beginning in January 2012, new standards were implemented to increase the efficiency of the basic light bulbs that many of us use and rely on in our homes and apartments.
As part of the bi-partisan Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, which was signed into law by the second President Bush, these new standards will require light bulbs to be approximately 25-30% more efficient than their predecessor, the incandescent Edison bulb. The new standards require that less energy be consumed (watts) for the amount of light produced (lumens).
There has been considerable debate in the U.S. as well as in many European countries about the right of the government to mandate these changes, and this issue has become somewhat of a political rallying cry of the Tea Party Republicans and Rush Limbaugh, in the same vein as “Drill baby drill” was during the 2008 election cycle.
From an economic, societal or environmental point of view, however, there simply is no debate.
It is important to grasp the historical context of the technology of the incandescent light bulb. The first incandescent light was created sometime in the early 19th century, and over the next 80 or so years was improved until the patent was purchased by Thomas Edison in 1879. This same bulb was slightly modified and improved over the next 130 or more years, but it has mostly remained as it was when it was invented.
The standard incandescent bulb emits less than 10% of its energy as light; the rest of the energy is converted into heat. Incandescent light bulbs have served us well for the last 130 years, but the economics and practicality of the bulb have been far surpassed by the compact Fluorescent Lamp (CFL) and the Light Emitting Diode (LED). In the past we may have afforded to waste electricity and increase our consumption of fossil fuels in order to meet our energy needs; we cannot afford to do so any longer.
Which bulb would you choose?**
Traditional Incandescent $4.80
Halogen Incandescent $3.50
ENERGY STAR CFL $1.20
ENERGY STAR LED $1.00
* For 60 watt replacement bulbs, based on 2 hrs/day of usage, shown in U.S. dollars. Approximate Operating Cost Per Year-From www.energysavers.gov
The new light bulb standards do not, as many politicians have argued, mandate any particular kind of light for Americans to use in their homes. They do, however, set performance standards for manufacturers to achieve a certain level of energy efficiency, and those standards will in effect remove most traditional incandescent bulbs from store shelves.
More efficient halogen gas incandescent bulbs will take their place, in addition to the already widely available and more efficient CFL bulbs and the burgeoning LED market. The U.S. government has a well-established history of raising appliance standards, beginning in 1974 when then-Governor Ronald Reagan signed a bill to bring greater efficiency to major appliances in California. (Reagan was also the first U.S. President to sign an appliance efficiency bill, when he signed the National Appliance Energy Act of 1987.)
Although this has recently been framed as a political issue due to the toxic nature of political discourse in recent years, it is clear that energy efficiency is a bi-partisan issue with real economic and societal benefits. According to a report recently issued by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy and the Appliance Standards Awareness Project, we will save $1.1 trillion through 2035 because of existing energy-efficiency mandates for light bulbs and appliances.
Many people argue that CFL bulbs give off cool light and do not look as warm and comforting as the old incandescent lights. This is simply untrue. The new generation of CFL lights contain color temperatures ranging from warm to cool and give off light that is indistinguishable from incandescent bulbs. CFL bulbs now have most of the same optional features that incandescent lights do, including dimming capability. Some people object to the mercury contained in the bulbs. There is a very small amount of mercury sealed in each bulb, which is necessary for its functionaltiy as a light source. CFLs actually reduce the total amount of mercury entering the environment, because they use 75% less energy than incandescent bulbs, so utilities can burn less coal and thus emit less mercury into the atmosphere. If you are not a fan of CFLs, there are certainly other options.
LED technology has also improved substantially over the past few years, and there are many LED lighting fixtures and technologies that can be purchased in stores now. LED fixtures give off excellent lighting qualities for many different uses and are extremely efficient, and the price for LED fixtures has been steadily dropping.
It is time that we give up a significant but extremely inefficient part of our history and embrace efficient lighting technologies, just as we have embraced technologial improvements in the rest of our lives. Small, seemingly insignificant acts such as changing a light bulb can make a better future for us and our children. At the very least, it will save you some money.
Want more info? We think this Natural Resources Defense Council light bulb guide is just terrific.
And remember to contact Community Environmental Center if you want to consult about lighting retrofits for your home or building.