February 26, 2011

Shedding some light on energy efficient lighting

Or "Lighting 101 for Dummies"

Look at shoppers’ faces as they stand in front of the lightbulb shelves in any store, and you’ll see some perplexed looks. Whether installing outdoor lighting or replacing indoor bulbs, there is a lot of confusion among consumers about the newer bulbs now available. And perhaps even anger and angst.

Did the government outlaw incandescent light bulbs? No. The 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act did not outlaw incandescents. Instead, it set efficiency standards that incandescents cannot meet. The law requires that all general-purpose light bulbs that produce 310–2600 lumens of light (more on that later) must be 30 percent more energy efficient than current incandescent bulbs by 2014, beginning with 100-watt bulbs in 2012. The new standard applies to clear, frosted, soft white, and daylight bulbs; specialty colors and shapes are not. It does not affect the existing supply of incandescent bulbs in retail stores or on your top shelf at home. Feel free to use them up if you don’t mind wasting energy.

When do the new efficiency standards go into effect? Under the legislation, 100-watt incandescent bulbs will be replaced starting Jan. 1, 2012, followed by 75-watt bulbs in 2013, then 40-watt and 60-watt bulbs in 2014.

In the average U.S. home, lighting accounts for about 20 percent of the electric bill. A high-quality CFL will save about $30 over its lifetime and pay for itself in about 6 months. It uses 75 percent less energy and lasts about 10 times longer than an incandescent bulb. Nationwide, the energy savings potential is significant. According to the U.S. government's ENERGY START program, if every U.S. home replaced just one incandescent bulb with an ENERGY STAR qualified bulb, enough energy would be saved to light more than 3 million homes for a year and reduce energy costs by $600 million.

Will the new standards reduce light pollution? More energy efficient lighting will reduce the wasted energy cost of $2 billion in the U.S., but unshielded up-lighting--most from poorly designed street lights—will still illuminate the sky. Currently, two-thirds of Americans cannot see the Milky Way from their backyards. Homeowners should consider this when adding up-lighting in their backyard landscaping.

How does a Compact Fluorescent Lightbulb (CFL) work? The argon and mercury vapors inside the twisted tube of a CFL get very excited in the presence of an electric current, producing invisible ultraviolet light as the mercury turns into a gas. That makes the phosphor coating inside the bulb glow—without much heat by the way. It takes a few seconds for all this excitement to occur. So be patient as the bulb gradually brightens. On the other hand, the electric current inside an incandescent bulb heats a thin tungsten filament to the point that it glows, but the bulb loses about 75 percent of its energy in the form of heat.

Why do CFLs cost more? At the moment, CFLs are more costly because they include a ballast (or resistance) at the base of the bulb to regulate the current. Think back to the original cost of DVD players and computers. You can expect a drop in efficient light bulb costs during the next few years as well. Consumers should factor in the lower energy cost and much longer lifespan of CFLs that offset the higher initial cost of CFLs. The latest packaging for CFLs includes an estimated saving that’s quite impressive. The bottom line is that CFLs and LEDs last longer and they will continue to get better, more efficient, safer and less expensive.

What are lumens? You really need to understand lumens to shop intelligently when replacing your incandescent bulbs. Lumens—not watts—tell you whether a bulb will be bright enough to meet your needs. More lumens mean a brighter light. A CFL and an incandescent bulb with the same lumen rating will produce the same amount of light. Just remember that one dinner candle provides about 12 lumens and that you need about 1600 lumens for reading without eye strain.

We are more familiar with watts which measure the amount of energy used to create that light, and we’ve been wasting a lot of energy to brighten our rooms. Don’t even worry about amps unless you’re an electrician! The color temperatures are usually specified in Kelvins (K). Foot-candles is another term that the average homeowner can leave out of their vocabulary—unless you’re trying out for Jeopardy.

What typical wattage will I need to replace a traditional incandescent bulb? Many folks give CFLs a bad name by not knowing what they’re doing when they try to go green. One Florida resort where I recently stayed replaced their 150 watt incandescents with 8 watt CFLs; reading was next to impossible with them.

When choosing compact fluorescents, always look for bulbs that are ENERGY STAR® qualified because they have been tested to meet stringent performance criteria established by the U.S. Department of Energy and the EPA.

Beginning in mid-2011, new labels will be required on light bulbs to help us get used to thinking in lumens, not watts. In the meanwhile, use this approximate conversion chart when replacing light bulbs.

2600 lumens = 150 watt incandescent = 42 watt CFL
1600 lumens = 100 watt incandescent = 23-27 watt CFL
800 lumens = 60 watt incandescent = 13-16 watt CFL
250 lumens = 25 watt incandescent = 5 watt CFL

Is light from a CFL similar to an incandescent bulb? While the first generation of CFLs had a characteristic blue tint, newer designs from reputable manufacturers recreate the warm glow of incandescent bulbs. GE’s “Reveal” CFL brand is supposedly great for reading.

Bulb color temperature is rated in Kelvins. Confusingly, higher Kelvin temperatures are what we consider cool and lower color temperatures are considered warm. CFLs on the low end of the Kelvin scale emit a warmer, yellowish light, like a conventional incandescent bulb. CFLs with higher Kelvin numbers emit a bluer light, like conventional fluorescent lights. To maintain consistent light quality, it’s best to use only bulbs with the same color temperature in a single room.

Quick guidelines:
Soft White: 2500-3000 K; Warm, yellowish light; ideal for living rooms, dens and bedrooms
Bright White: 3500-4100 K; Crisp, white light; ideal for kitchens and work areas
Daylight: 5000-6500 K; Similar to natural sunlight; ideal for reading and detail-oriented work

Color rendition is generally considered to be a more important lighting quality than color temperature. Soou might see “Color Rendering Index” (CRI) on packaging soon to help you compare it with natural sunlight and how colors appear. The top value of the CRI scale (100) is based on illumination by a 100-watt incandescent light bulb. Good quality CFLs have a CRI value between 80-85 which is appropriate for home use. It’s similar to the quality of light used in stores. So check out the labels for “color” of the light that’s produced.

Do CFLs still need to warm up? The first CFLs flickered when they were turned on because it took a few seconds for the ballast to produce enough electricity to excite the gas inside the bulb. Thanks to refined technology, there is now no significant flicker (less than 1 second). However, these bulbs do require a short warm-up period before they reach full brightness, which is why they may appear dim when first turned on. Compact fluorescent bulbs are best used in fixtures that are left on for longer periods of time, rather than in fixtures that are turned off and on frequently.

Do dimmable CFLs exist? Yes, and 3-way settings as well. They are a relatively new line, so read the packaging carefully. Dimmable CFLs typically dim down to about 20% of total light output. Below that, the bulb switches off. If you want to use a CFL with a dimmer switch, make sure you choose a bulb with “dimmable” on the packaging.

What is a Light-Emitting Diode (LED) bulb? Put simply, LEDs emit light by the movement of electrons in a semiconductor material that converts electricity directly into light. They produce less heat than CFLs and last even longer, so are even more energy efficient; they contain no mercury. In contrast to an incandescent bulb, which produces a continuous spectrum of light, the LED emits light of a particular color or wavelength depending on the material used at the base of the chip. Light quality is good as well. They offer a great potential for the future of lighting, but they are still more expensive than CFLs.

What about halogen bulbs? Think of them as a hybrid or a good compromise. They are incandescent bulbs that use gases to improve efficiency. Most halogens achieve the required energy efficiency. Energy saving is approximately 25 percent, compared to 75-80 percent for CFLs.

Finally, what the heck is an ESL bulb? One of the latest bulbs on the block (actually only on the internet) is the "electron stimulated luminescence" bulb, and it contains NO mercury. This mouthful (otherwise known as a Vu1--or Vu one) is UL-certified and recalls the old TV technology of cathode tubes. It seems that a cathode can generate and spray electrons onto a bulb's interior phorphor coating too and make it glow. ESLs have efficiency efficiency and cost somewhere in the middle between CFLs and LEDs. They are dimmable too. Check them out at http://www.vu1corporation.com/ .

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.

February 12, 2011

EPA again under fire

What a difference a day makes!

Yesterday the EPA announced that this agency was "in the process of developing the first-ever national rules to ensure the safe disposal and management of coal ash from coal-fired power plants. The proposed regulations will ensure stronger oversight of the structural integrity of impoundments, and protection of human health and the environment. The agency is evaluating more than 400,000 public comments on the proposed rule, which was released in May 2010.

For more information and to view all the electric utility action plans and EPA coal ash assessment reports: http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/nonhaz/industrial/special/fossil/surveys2/index.htm

Today a headline proclaimed that the Republicans in Congress were proposing a 30 percent cut to EPA's budget--especially targetting their regulatory efforts.

February 4, 2011

Can the Chesapeake be too clean?

Not if you read what the James River Association says on its website:
The goals for pollution reduction are attainable. No one is trying to eliminate all pollution from our rivers. Scientists, business leaders, and government officials can all agree that some pollution is an inevitable side-effect of economic activity, and that we need to have a healthy economy alongside a healthy environment. That’s why the new goals for reducing pollution in the James River allow for 23 million lbs. of nitrogen, 2.37 million lbs. of phosphorous, and 920.23 million lbs. of sediment pollution each year. Before you let anyone tell you that the James River will be getting “too clean,” reflect on these numbers. Imagine 130 large dump trucks lined up at a boat ramp (that’s a line about 9 football fields long) on the James River every day, dumping a payload of these pollutants straight into the river. That’s how much pollution is allowed under the new EPA goals. That’s how much pollution we can reasonably expect this river to take and still be healthy enough for wildlife and humans to use and enjoy.
That's a great visual, isn't it? So please stop your bellyaching, industry and farm lobby! Get onboard the EPA's efforts to clean up our waters.

February 2, 2011

Fracking 101

Or how Clean Water Act violations can occur

If you haven't heard about the fracking process used to get to natural gas that's lurking in underground shale deposits, there's a very informative website, Fracking Resource Guide, with some easy-to-understand graphics and text that should arouse your concern.

There's another one at http://nofracking.com/ that focuses on fracking in New York State.

All Americans need to get up to speed on this fracking process before everyone's drinking water is harmed.

New York Times story this week should have opned your eyes, if you thought that the drilling companies were going to keep you informed. It seems that some oil and gas service companies have been injecting tens of millions of gallons of diesel fuel into onshore wells in more than a dozen states from 2005 to 2009.

OOPS! What about the Safe Water Drinking Act, you ask? Congressman Henry Waxman also asked. But oil and gas companies admitted using diesel fuel in their fracking fluids, but they rejected the assertion that it was illegal. They said that the EPA had never properly developed rules and procedures to regulate the use of diesel in fracking, despite a clear grant of authority from Congress over the issue. Kinda a "frack you" response, I'd say--especially since Halliburton (them again?) and two other drilling companies signed an agreement in 2003 to limit diesel in fracking. But maybe that was only in shallow drilling???? Loopholes, loopholes!

These companies had traditionally used diesel fuel as part of their fracturing cocktails because it helps to dissolve and disperse the other chemicals (Yikes, there are more?) suspended in the fluid. But toluene, xylene and benzene, a carcinogen, are in that diesel--and they are finding their way into some drinking water, in spite of the EPA conclusion in 2004 that this did not occur. So EPA folks are re-visiting the issue again, although the results are not expected until 2012 at the earliest.

Here's an interesting fact: in 2005, Congress amended the Safe Water Drinking Act to exclude regulation of hydraulic fracturing, but allowed regulation of diesel fuel used in fracking. That was a "Halliburton loophole."
Many companies have eliminated or cut back on the use of diesel in fracking, but 12 companies (in 19 states) reported having used 32.2 million gallons of diesel fuel, or fluids containing diesel fuel, in their fracking processes from 2005 to 2009. Approximately half the total was in Texas, but at least a million gallons of diesel-containing fluids were also used in Oklahoma (3.3 million gallons); North Dakota (3.1 million); Louisiana (2.9 million); Wyoming (2.9 million); and Colorado (1.3 million).

The important fact is that no permits for diesel-based fracking have been sought or granted since the Safe Drinking Water Act was amended in 2005. But the EPA never created the rules or procedures to apply for these permits. That's analogous to parents not telling little Johnny that he needs to ask before staying out until midnight before telling him that they'll go bonkers when he tries it.
Making rules and enforcing them is a new job for the EPA after many decades of lax oversight. I'm hoping that EPA poohbah Lisa Jackson is up to this task--and soon.

If you want to read the industry's side of the fracking debate, check out http://www.shalecountry.com/.