Light bulb moments

Energy efficient lighting and incandescent bulbs

With lighting taking up an average of 30% of household utility bills, and 10-12% of national energy needs, it seems logical to move to a more energy efficient alternative to the incandescent light bulb. Energy Star appliances which use less energy have met with enormous success, so this seems like a logical step in the evolution of Edison’s invention. Think again. The phasing out of incandescent light bulbs by governments across the globe has met with opposition that is strangely emotional and very angry. People, it seems, are not ready to switch, even if it would greatly reduce greenhouse gas emissions and save them all a bunch of money.

Their arguments against the CFLs and LEDs which aim to replace the beloved incandescent bulbs are varied. In Europe, 53.6% of people feared an increase in mercury poisoning from the new lamps while in the States, 72.3% of people felt angry about the forced phasing out of incandescent light bulbs, citing ‘light bulb socialism’ as their main objection. Although most of them may well have made the switch, they felt resentment at having being forced to do so by the government. There are 4.0g of mercury in each CFL light bulb (there is no mercury in LEDs) and up to 4% of this mercury is released when the light bulb is broken. Fear that this mercury could compromise health has been dismissed by governments worldwide. What everyone does agree on is that they prefer the warm glow of an incandescent to the flat white light of the alternatives. Some have complained of migraines and other negative effects from CFLs and LEDs.

Another objection to CFLs and LEDs is the cost. Although households will make up their capital outlay in utilities savings over time, many people cannot afford to replace all the light bulbs in their homes at once. They feel that the government should bare the costs of light bulb replacements if it chooses to phase out incandescents. Incandescent light bulb manufacturers in Europe and North America have been closing down their plants as the change is implemented, resulting in job losses. The CFL and LED market is dominated by China where, ironically, an increase in industrial production has resulted in the building of more coal-fired electricity plants which may offset any reduction in greenhouse gases from the phasing out of incandescents.

The reaction of the public to the phasing out schemes has been outspoken and emotional. When several European nations banned incandescent light bulbs in 2009, sales rose by 150% as people rushed to stockpile supplies of their beloved bulbs. Czech Republic president, Vaclav Klaus was so incensed by the move that he urged people to stockpile enough incandescent light bulbs to last them the rest of their lives.

Improvements are afoot; the mercury content of CFLs is dropping, the colors of LEDs and CFLs are changing to the point where they nearly match the warmth of the incandescent light bulbs. The EU claims that CO₂ emissions will be reduced by 15 million tons a year thanks to the more energy efficient light bulbs. They claim that each household will save €50 and that the EU will save a massive €5-10 billion annually. With the US slated to begin their bans on incandescent light bulbs from 2012, more greenhouse gas emissions and money saving will be in the offing. Canada has also decided to go through with the incandescent light bulb phase out.

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