It's lights out for the incandescent bulb

2011-01-25 20:24

Los Angeles - The brightest bulb in most homes for more than a century is fading toward darkness this year as California turns out the light on the century-old incandescent.

Beginning on January 1, the state began phasing out certain energy-sucking bulbs, federal standards the rest of the country will enact next year.

Manufacturers will no longer make the traditional 100W bulb and stores will eventually sell out of current supplies. Consumers will have to choose from more efficient bulbs that use no more than 72W, including halogen incandescents, compact fluorescents and light-emitting diode, or LED, bulbs.

"These standards will help cut our nation's electric bill by over $10bn a year and will save the equivalent electricity as 30 large power plants," said Noah Horowitz a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defence Council. "That translates into a whole lot less global warming pollution being emitted."

The change is part of the federal Energy Independence and Security Act that President George W Bush signed in 2007, to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. California was allowed to adopt the national standard one year earlier.


The act requires new bulbs to use 25% to 30% less energy beginning in 2012 nationally - starting with the 100W bulb. By 2014, other incandescent bulbs, including the 75W, 60W and 40W, will also be phased out across the country.

Some specialty bulbs, however, will continue to be available. Consumers will still be able to get smaller lights such as yellow bug lights and aquarium bulbs.

Light bulb manufacturers said they haven't received any reports of customers hoarding 100W bulbs yet, though that may change once supplies begin to dry up and word gets out.

Nick Reynoza, manager at Royal Lighting in Los Angeles, said it's a shame the transition comes at a time when alternatives are so much more expensive.

"It's not really an option - you have this or you don't get anything," he said. "The options are more expensive. Four incandescents are $1.00, the halogens are $5.99 and the LED are like $20."

While conservation groups back the change and the lighting industry has invested heavily in new technology, not everyone supports the law. Representative Joe Barton, a Texas Republican, reintroduced legislation this year to repeal the law.

"People don't want Congress dictating what light fixtures they can use," said Barton on his website. "Traditional incandescent bulbs are cheap and reliable."

New standards

Adam Gottlieb, spokesperson for the California Energy Commission, acknowledged that the change has resulted in a "great deal of hue and cry" on some blogs as well.

Recent postings have included the titles "More dim bulbs: California banning 100-watt incandescent light bulbs" and "More evidence that California is nuts."

Gottlieb, however, said it was not a ban and that consumers can still buy whatever bulbs they want as long as they meet the new standards.

"After 130 years Tom Edison's old-fashioned light bulb is getting a 20th century makeover," he said. "The simple truth is consumers will save money."

The newer bulbs are more expensive than incandescents, but supporters of the technology say they last so much longer that there is a financial savings in the end. For example, while incandescents provide as much as 2 000 hours of light, compact fluorescents can provide light for six times longer.

Incandescents, which create light by passing an electric current through a tungsten wire filament, also waste 90% of the electricity they use as heat instead of light. Fluorescents, by comparison, apply an electrical current to different types of phosphers to produce light and produce less heat.


But fans of the traditional bulb say they provide a softer, more natural light and turn on more quickly. Michael Petras, president of GE Lighting, said the industry is aware of the shortcomings and is working to refine the technology.

"We've got compact fluorescents that look like incandescents," he said from the company's headquarters in Cleveland. "We have a product coming out this spring that's a hybrid of compact fluorescent and halogen that will provide energy savings and a better start up time."

Australia was the first to begin phasing out incandescents beginning in 2009, followed by the EU, the Philippines and Argentina, said Petras. Mexico and Brazil are expected to follow the US.

  • duckmatix - 2011-01-25 21:06

    Come on South Africa, let's do the same I've changed my whole house lights to the low energy globes/tubes and it's a pleasure to know I am saving rands and can enjoy more light where the light is using about 9 watts instead of 60 or 100 watts.

  • gpwengineer - 2011-01-25 21:23

    LOL... and how much electricity is required to manufacture the other types of light bulbs? Nothing beats incandescent for providing light over the full visual spectrum. What a hoax... Eskom went on the same drive of replacing incandescent with CFL bulbs. We are still facing load shedding in 2011. It cost Eskom more money to source the CFL light bulbs which were sold to Eskom way above trade prices. .

      Theo - 2011-01-26 09:58

      And into the invisible spectrum on both the UV and IR sides. And incandescents are actually great sources of heat, specially in winter, as +85% of the energy they consume is given of as heat. And because they need so much power (generated electricity) and we (SA) have such clean coal they don't cause serious Mercury emissions at the power plant during the electricity generation cycle. So they are not at all bad for the environment. And as they are so energy efficient (these incandescents) the power plants do not need vast amounts of water during the process. Water which we (SA) have in abundance. So, although I personally do not like CFL's (prefer LEDs), they are a damn side better than incandescents when you look at the full picture!

  • Almo - 2011-01-25 22:15

    From when does the Yanks give a damn about ...well GIVING A DAMN!! This is definately a first, but wont make a real decrease in pollution...

  • costajules - 2011-01-26 08:56

    CFL's mostly have a greenish colour, and take a while to warm up before they deliver their rated output. LED's are starting to come out in the correct colour, but they are still needlessly expensive. When good alternatives come out at a reasonable price, people will buy. It's a start. If everyone goes over to a better, more efficient light (LED's are getting there, but still too expensive to sway anyone but the green crowd) it will help. People are simply too numerous and too wasteful.

  • TurboChris - 2011-01-26 11:52

    I believe the incandescent globe is already phased out in EU. From the story above the savings are huge, all countries should adopt the same policy.

  • Kimcy1 - 2011-12-07 15:33

    As a communications engineer CFLs generate a lot of radio frequency noise with the cheap lights that come from China. What this means is that the broadband noise floor will increase dramatically and affect communications. To give you an example in 1978 I measured the noise floor in Midrand at 0.2microvolts now it is just under 2microvolts and climbing due to the digital age and CFLs. What this means is that the normal communications radio range has reduced some 30%.( because of unusable radio sensitivity due to broadband noise pollution) There needs to be legislation t have a specification of radiation from CFLs before making it mandatory. Furthermore there needs to be laws in place for collection of expired units as they contain toxic mercury if thrown into landfils as normal rubbish.

  • Kimcy1 - 2011-12-07 15:43

    compact fluorescents have a switching mode oscillator in them which causes a power factor error. for example a 12W CFL drws the equivalent of 19W off the eskom grid due to the power factor error. incoming CFL's from China need to have some sort of power factor correction built in which would increase the cost per unit but will be a huge saving on eskom grid in the long run as the power factor could cause a 30% increase in the equivalent power used by the CFL. This should be legistlated and mandatory for importation to south Africa. This is why LED lighting is a better option and cleaner in all respects. CFLS should be outlawed due to Broadband noise pollution and the lack of power factor correction.

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