It’s Not About the Bulbs

What if there was a technology that could cut your electric bill, reduce the amount of coal used to create electricity and last 13 times longer than what you probably have in your house right now? Ok, I will tell you this technology is out there, and you can buy it right now in your grocery store. The compact fluorescent bulb (CFL) provides energy savings, longer life and less coal used for electricity than the incandescent bulb.

According to the California Energy Commission, a 13-watt CFL produces as much light as a 60-watt incandescent bulb while using only ¼ the amount of energy. 90% of the energy produced by incandescent bulbs comes in the form of heat, not light. Therefore, if you have many incandescents in your house, you actually can raise the inside temperature of your home. Fluorescent bulbs can also last up to 15 times longer than regular light bulbs. Replacing just ¼ of the light bulbs in your home can reduce your electric bill by up to half. Who wouldn’t want to run out and replace all their old bulbs with CFLs? The answer is: a lot of people.

When Congress tried to impose a ban on incandescent bulbs many states and consumers fought hard against this ban. Texas actually passed a measure declaring that incandescent bulbs made in the state of Texas would not be subject to the ban. Pennsylvania and South Carolina pursued similar measures. Eventually, the ban was put on hold. Bundled into the December deal that prevented a federal government shutdown was a provision preventing the Department of Energy from spending money on implementation of the incandescent bulb ban.

The main argument against the ban on old-fashioned light bulbs is that it is too much government overreach into the personal lives of citizens. This backlash against this ban is an example of the kind of resistance often met to measures that appear to be common sense and good for everyone. However, the typical consumer, particularly the typical American consumer is not always so willing to warm up to new technologies. Unwillingness to change behavior can impede the adoption of new, cleaner technologies.

Rather than imposing a ban such as the one on incandescent bulbs, another tactic that may be more useful is to initiate a campaign in favor of CFLs. Much in the way that the anti-smoking campaigns have made this behavior almost passé, a campaign explaining why CFLs are the superior technology and in particular how they can save consumers money might be a more efficient method to convince Americans to fully adopt the CFL, eventually phasing out incandescent bulbs.


California Energy Commission:

CNN Money Report:

Los Angeles Times:






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2 responses to “It’s Not About the Bulbs

  1.  lighthouse

    All lighting has advantages, including CFLs
    But that does not justify bans (phase outs) of alternative lighting.

    That would be the case even if there were great energy savings:
    Because there is no future shortage of energy for electricity (including low emission renewables etc), and people pay for that energy use for the advantages that incandescents also have over CFLs or LEDs in many situations.
    Besides, if there was an energy shortage, the price rise would lead to
    less electricity uses and more purchases of energy saving products anyway – no need to legislate for it.

    the energy savings are hardly there either.
    A fraction of 1% and about 1% of grid electricity is saved from a ban,
    on US Dept of Energy own stats and surveys, as per link below.

    Light bulbs don’t burn coal or release CO2 emissions.
    Power plants might not either.
    Coal is hardly saved, even when coal is the source:
    Since base loading coal plants are hardly turned down at night,
    ie basically the same coal gets burned whether lights are on or not,
    (and quicker turbine turning peak time sources eg gas or hydro involve less emissions).

    Manufacturers sought and welcomed this ban on profitability grounds, as documented.
    Throughout history, people have always welcomed new energy saving technology – and standards have to allow for what exists, or consumers might be left in the dark:
    ie CFLs and LEDs where invented in the presence – not the absence – of cheap incandescent competition.

    Even if the bulbs had to be targeted (they don’t),
    stimulated competition or taxation/subsidies are better, as described.

    The Deception behind banning Light Bulbs:
    A 13 point rundown of the deception arguments used to justify light bulb regulations, and why they don’t hold up

  2. It’s Not About the Bulbs.

    You may be absolutely correct that banning incandescent light bulbs will not alleviate the carbon emissions from energy generation, but I think DYANK has a point that “unwillingness to change behavior can impede the adoption of new, cleaner technologies.”

    As Dr. Webber has said in class, the United States is as “dirty” as China, and the people prefer to search for cheaper alternatives rather than change their behaviors. Although BBC News found that the United States recycled about 28% of its waste in 2005, which is twice what it had been for the past 15 years and is 10% higher than the recycle rate in UK. [1] According to the 2010 Municipal recycling rates study conducted by North Central Texas Council of Governments (NCTCOG), a large portion of cities in North Texas recycle 41 of the 60 municipals under study recycled less than 20% of its total waste. [2]

    From what I observe in Texas compared to other states or countries, there are many behaviors that could be corrected or improved in Texas to benefit the environment and/or reduce emissions. These include driving smaller cars, carpooling to work, expanding the public transit system, enforcing stricter recycling legislations, reducing plastic bag use, and many others.


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