February 21, 2011

Lights out for incandescents?

Sorry, Thomas Edison. Your light bulb invention was a dandy idea 130 years ago, but not very energy efficient. Very soon it will be lights out for incandescent light bulbs because they create more heat than light and convert only 5-10 percent of the energy they consume into emitting light. That is not a good return on investment—especially if you consider the coal burned to create that wasted electricity.

In 2007, President Bush signed the bipartisan Energy Independence and Security Act that includes a standard of 30 percent more energy efficiency for lighting. It phases out traditional 100-watt bulbs in January 2012, 75-watt in 2013, and 60-watt and 40-watt bulbs in 2014.

The new standard is technology neutral, which means that consumers can choose Compact Fluorescent Lightbulb (CFL), Light Emitting Diode (LED), halogen or some new technology still in research labs.

Many think that watts represent light output, but wattage is a measure of power consumption, not brightness. CFLs and LEDs consume more than 75 percent less power to produces the same amount of light as our old bulbs. Thus, a lower wattage number indicates greater energy saving, not lower light output.

Some folks see America’s move away from Edison-style watt bulbs to CFL and LED lights as light bulb socialism. But what force other than government can make Americans stop wasting energy and money? In general, CFLs last about 10 times longer. Even so, in a recent survey, about 13 percent of Americans said that they would stock up on 100-watt incandescents before they disappear from store shelves.

Before you begin stockpiling, reflect on this—especially if you like extra cash in your pockets and clean air. These new lighting standards, fully implemented, may cut America’s energy bill by $13 billion per year and eliminate the need for 30 large power plants, most of which are currently burning coal.

Don’t like the look of those “twisted” CFL bulbs? Manufacturers are now beginning to place them inside a conventional looking bulb for people opposed to change or for lamps where the bulb is quite visible.

Dangerous mercury in CFLs? Like all fluorescent bulbs, CFLs contain small amounts of mercury (roughly equivalent to the tip of a ball-point pen) and that complicates their disposal. They are safe to use if handled and used properly. Many large retailers, including Lowe’s and Home Depot, will recycle CFLs bulbs for free. All CFL lamps are marked with a crossed-out wheeled dust bin logo, indicating that they should not be disposed of with regular household waste but should be returned making use of existing local waste deposits according to national legislation.

However, if you ever break a CFL, don’t panic. Simply turn off the AC/Heat, open a window, and leave the room for about 15 minutes. If the bulb breaks while burning, a small amount of mercury vapor will get into the air and you don’t want to inhale it. Unplug the lamp before gathering up the fragments. Place them in a glass jar with metal lid or in a sealed plastic bag. Use a disposable paper towel or sticky tape to remove small pieces. Use a vacuum cleaner only if the surface leaves no alternative (like a carpet). After that, dispose of the vacuum bag containing the lamp fragments. Wash your hands after disposing of the jars or plastic bags containing clean-up materials. Take to your county’s next Household Chemical Collection event.

Click http://www.epa.gov/cfl/cflcleanup.html  to read EPA’s instructions on broken CFLs.