Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Incandescent Bulbs Return to the Cutting Edge

The New York Times reports Incandescent Bulbs Return to the Cutting Edge.

"Researchers across the country have been racing to breathe new life into Thomas Edison’s light bulb, a pursuit that accelerated with the new legislation. Amid that footrace, one company is already marketing limited quantities of incandescent bulbs that meet the 2012 standard, and researchers are promising a wave of innovative products in the next few years. Indeed, the incandescent bulb is turning into a case study of the way government mandates can spur innovation."

Now about those CAFE standards for cars...


Panta Rei said...

"Indeed, the incandescent bulb is turning into a case study of the way government mandates can spur innovation"

Many fall into the trap of assuming
that energy efficiency products are necessarily a good thing...

Inefficient products need to have specific advantages - otherwise noone would buy them (ordinary light bulbs chosen 19 times out of 20 by Americans).

Performance, construction, appearance and price advantages are all variably related to inefficiency.
For example a given car using more energy is faster and/or may be safer (heavier construction). Sealed buildings without opening windows or balconies are efficient buildings, but not of universal appeal.

As for an incandescent light bulb that lasts longer:
Brightness may not be the same over time,
and it will certainly be more expensive than ordinary types.

There may not be any savings,
for any efficient products used short term, and/or rarely: Consider light bulbs in rarely used lamps or rooms, or computers often changed for new models, or second cars.

Indeed, with electrical products, Scottish research shows that since efficient products effectively mean cheaper energy, people just use more energy, not giving the supposed energy or emission savings for society.

Few seem to question the logic of all the efficiency based bans, whether on light bulbs or cars or dishwashers, as in the recent legislation proposals.

"Look at all the energy we save", says President Obama.
Since when does America need to save on electricity?
There is no energy shortage, there are plenty of local energy sources, Middle East oil is not used for electricity generation.
Consumers pay for any power stations, just as they do for factories and shops generally.
Certainly it is good to let people know how they can save energy and money - but why force them to do it?

The savings -and desirability- can anyway be questioned for households to switch all lights (different light types suit different locations, and not all lights are often used).

"Look at all the emission savings", says President Obama.
Dear Mr President: Does your light bulb give out any gases?
Power stations might not either:
In Washington state practically all electricity is emission-free, while around half of it is in states like New York and California.
Why should emission-free Seattle, New York and Los Angeles households there be denied the use of lighting they obviously want to use?
Low emission households will increase everywhere, since emissions will be reduced anyway through the planned use of coal/gas processing technology or energy substitution.

Again, the savings - and their value - can be questioned.
Global warming is a global problem, whatever about carbon dioxide reduction effects on it.
Thereby the irony of abandoning American jobs in the low energy consuming low emission making of simple safe cheap light bulbs in local factories,
in favor of the high energy consuming high emission making of mercury containing expensive fluorescent lights in unregulated coal-powered China, with intercontinental transport emissions and recycling emissions added on top. It's called "environmental progress".
Without recycling, there is of course the mercury issue - and coal powwer emissions are no excuse, they will be reduced anyway
by 905 before 2018 using recent new technology:
See Government EPA site:

Why light bulb bans are wrong:
http://www.ceolas.net/#li1x onwards

DKB said...

Panta Rei: You seem to have fallen into a few assumption traps of your own on this topic. It is specious to assume that inefficient things MUST have some inherent advantage, and I think some of the perceived advantages of inefficient things that are habitually used are themselves deceptive.

Let's start with lightbulbs, the topic of Howard's post. Let me first state that I am *NOT* a big fan of fluorescent light, and I don't have a houseful of CF bulbs. I use a CF to light my front porch, because I typically leave that light on in the evenings. I use a pair of CF floodlights to light the back patio when I'm outside at night because they offer significant longevity and low energy use for a given light output, and I'm not that concerned about the quality of the light there.

Still, I recognize that my choice of mostly-incandescent light is based almost exclusively on the quality of the light itself, not the efficiency. I certainly didn't choose to stick with incandescents because I feel that I'm supporting lucrative light-bulb manufacturing in the US. I have about 15 bulbs of various types in the garage, and only 3 of those (2 of one type and one other bulb) specify that they are made in the USA. 4 of them are made in China, 3 in Mexico and the rest just don't specify (they list a GE corporate address in the US, but never say they were made there... I generally assume that what's not said in cases like that is intentional, but I'm cynical like that.)

Your car example is simply not supported by the facts. There are indeed some cars that are less energy-efficient simply because they trade off higher performance for lower fuel mileage, but there are many that are just poorly-designed turds that are optimized solely for cheap manufacturing and low sales prices to get the cars sold. There are also large, relatively heavy and torquey cars on the market like the Impala that offer surprisingly good fuel economy for their size, they just aren't all that impressive in other areas.

"Sealed" buildings are not necessarily efficient at all, actually. In most of the world's temperate zone, the most efficient choice is to ventilate a building well during times of the day and/or year when the weather is comfortable. There are many "sealed" commercial buildings that are so poorly designed for their sites and uses that they may be simultaneously cooled on one side of the building and heated on the other, when internal cross-ventilation could solve the problem for nearly zero energy use. The builder, however, is usually not the occupant and doesn't really care about monthly energy bills, they just wanted to build the building as cheaply as they could to have it remain economically viable while they're depreciating it for their taxes. This is a case where other regulations have caused energy efficiency to be ignored because it doesn't matter, and sane regulations might help direct us toward better buildings overall.

Vast areas of the country are not powered by nice clean hydroelectric generation. Here in Texas where many inefficient houses suck down lots of kWh all summer, most of the power is generated by coal and natural gas. I think it's a trap to assume that coal generation will magically become clean in just a couple of years and we'll have cheap plentiful coal power to last forever.

A balanced approach is what's needed, and for the last decade the balance has been toward laissez-faire practices of allowing business to rush to the bottom... cheapest is not always best, any more than most-energy-efficient is necessarily the most efficient overall.

I would like to see more Americans employed in creating modern, efficient products that are sold around the world. I don't think that banning light bulbs is going to do that, but I'm certain that sticking to business as usual isn't working for it either.

Howard said...

Thanks for that. :)

I was wondering why the industry didn't make these new better incandescent bulbs before the regulation? If there were those of us willing to pay more for them, shouldn't that have been a market opportunity?

DKB said...

In fact there were technicaly superior incandescents available before the regs were passed, but like CFLs they were more expensive and 'different' and didn't sell well, nor were they marketed heavily. Most consumers were satisfied with their cheap 100-year old compromise and didn't want to try something new.