Lights Out for Incandescent Bulbs
Our new and enduring reality is to seek energy-efficiency in all aspects of modern life.Posted Dec 31, 2013
The remaining spare packaged incandescent bulbs on your garage shelves may be the last you’ll see of these bulbs, with stores nationwide replacing stock with energy-saving alternatives. In 2013, all 75 and 100 watt incandescent bulbs were phased out of production, and as of January 2014, the more popular 40 and 60 watt bulbs are following suit. Only specialty incandescent bulbs, such as 3-way bulbs, globes and high-efficiency bulbs, will remain on the market. These changes have been mandated by energy-saving provisions signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2007.
“In 2013, all 75 and 100 watt incandescent bulbs were phased out of production, and as of January 2014, the more popular 40 and 60 watt bulbs are following suit.”
Incandescent bulbs were doomed by their energy-wasting inefficiency. They might just as well have been called “heat bulbs” instead of “light bulbs”, since about 90% of the energy required to illuminate the filament is lost to heat. Such inefficiencies are unacceptable today, as we better understand the implications of energy generation on the environment and economy. Our new and enduring reality is to seek energy-efficiency in all aspects of modern life.
With over 4 billion light sockets in the US today, the projected savings of replacing 10% efficient bulbs is significant. The US Department of Energy estimates that US households could collectively save nearly $6 billion per year in lighting costs by 2015. And perhaps more importantly, the emissions reduced from coal-fired electric generating plants will also be substantially reduced.
“The US Department of Energy estimates that US households could collectively save nearly $6 billion per year in lighting costs by 2015”
Consumers have had time to adjust to the changing technologies in lighting. The emergence of CFL bulbs in the late 1990s signaled a shift in awareness towards more efficient lighting. But inconsistent manufacturing standards, and the presence of minute amounts of mercury in the bulbs, became stumbling blocks to the broad acceptance of CFLs. In hindsight, it appears that CFLs have been a bridging technology which provided energy savings for consumers while the more efficient LEDs were still in development.
Today, LED bulbs are gradually replacing CFLs in many homes as lighting manufacturers find solutions to the developmental problems associated with LEDs – high cost and limited function. Just three years ago, LEDs were double the costs of today’s counterparts, and prices are continuing to fall. The uni-directional nature of LED light has been addressed by reflectors, multiple diode arrays and diffused lenses which broadcast the light in a wider omnidirectional beam, similar to incandescents. And the “cool” blue light of early LEDs was not favored for most indoor applications, but today LEDs are available in a range of “warm” light colors.
Because the newer CFL and LED bubs are so much more efficient than incandescents, a new labelling system had to be devised to help consumers sort through the myriad data on light bulb packaging. A 12 watt LED, for example, produces the same amount of apparent light as a 15 – 20 watt CFL bulb, or a 60 watt incandescent bulb. Since 2011, product packaging for all light bulbs replaces “watts” with “lumens”, the measure of a bulb’s actual brightness, as the basic unit of comparing different light bulbs. To learn more, read our article Lumens are the New Watts.
Although the intention of banning incandescents favors the consumer with proven cost savings, there are still pockets of resistance to the ban on incandescent bulbs. Some citizens resent new government regulations in principle, and efforts have been made in Congress to overturn the law. But manufacturers are moving ahead in full compliance with the law.
Additional government-mandated efficiencies in lighting are planned. One section of the new law requires that most light bulbs be 60-70% more efficient than the standard incandescent today; this will go into effect in 2020. Many CFLs and LEDs can meet this requirement today.
125 years ago, the invention of the incandescent bulb was so revolutionary that the symbol of the light bulb was popularly adopted as an icon signifying “a bright idea”. But while this brilliant invention may have run its course, the future is brighter for consumers everywhere who will benefit from more efficient lighting at lower cost to both people and the planet.
To learn more about the different types of energy-saving light bulbs, see our page Energy-Efficient Lighting.
To compare the costs and relative benefits of CFL versus LED light bulbs, see our page LED Light Bulbs: Comparison Charts.