In case you missed it amid holiday shopping, the U.S. Congress last week voted to throw a wrench in the imminent law that will phase out inefficient incandescent light bulbs, starting Jan. 1, 2012 with most 100-watt incandescents.
The law will still go into effect, but as part of budget negotiations Congress voted to block funding for the Energy Department to enforce the rules through Sept. 30, 2012. This is where the whole thing gets weirdly political—which is arguably redundant—because light bulb industry leaders like Osram Sylvania, GE and Philips are already geared up to sell more energy-efficient LED (light emitting diode) lamps and CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps). They are not producing many 100-watt incandescents.
In other words, the recent vote isn’t going to change much. The incandescent is still on the way out.
Some Republicans, however, want a full repeal of the law, which was a part of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, signed into law by then-president George W. Bush. The law doesn’t ban incandescent lights outright, as many believe. Rather, it mandates that lights have to be about 28 percent more efficient, starting with 100-watters in 2012, 75-watt bulbs in 2013 and 60-watters in 2014. The efficiency mandate does mean that most incandescent bulbs we know today will be phased out, because they just aren’t that efficient. Most of the energy it takes to light an incandescent is wasted as heat.
And halogen lights, which are a more efficient form of incandescent technology, will still be widely available. An easy-to-understand Lighting Facts label will help you compare lights and allow you to shop for brightness (measured in lumens).
What’s the Point?
So what’s the point in undercutting a law that is about to go into effect, with an industry already geared up for it, and that most Americans support, according to the Alliance to Save Energy?
It scores political points with those upset about the government “telling” them what light bulbs to buy.
I understand that independent sentiment, and I love the warm glow of an incandescent bulb as much as the next person. But here are three big, important facts on incandescent lighting versus new and super-efficient LEDs and other alternatives, which everyone buying a light bulb should know:
1. Incandescents cost you more in the long run.
Incandescents are cheap when you buy them, but here’s the yearly cost breakdown, provided by U.S. Department of Energy based on 60-watt replacement bulbs being used two hours a day:
- Traditional incandescent bulb—$4.80
- Halogen incandescent—$3.50
- Energy Star-rated CFL—$1.20
- Energy Star-rated LED costs—$1
This is because you’ll use less electricity with the alternatives—a 60-watt LED equivalent uses about 10 to 13 watts—and you’ll end up changing out cheaper incandescent lights much more often. The Alliance to Save Energy estimates the new law will save U.S. consumers $12 billion a year.
2. New standards breed innovation.
Say what you will about the government interfering with your life. I often wished it didn’t either. But that new or recent refrigerator you own—even those back to the late 1980s—likely wouldn’t be as efficient if it weren’t for the government setting some basic minimum standards. In the long run, that little bit of government intervention saves you money in electricity costs. Just look at how voluntary Energy Star standards for televisions have made a mid-size TV that uses just 100 watts when on pretty standard fare. The light bulb law goes much further, of course, but it will save us all energy and money—while accelerating the much-needed development of LED lighting, which has huge potential.
3. LED lighting is the future.
Light emitting diode lamps are not just expensive light bulbs. They are pieces of electronics, using solid-state circuitry to produce light. You can have various shades of white lights, from a warm incandescent-like glow (about 2700 Kelvin) to bright white and bluish light (5000-6000 Kelvin). Or, you can have colored LEDs and put on cool-looking light shows. LEDs already make many LCD TVs more efficient and are better at producing blacker blacks and higher contrast, due to their ability to turn off immediately. And did you know that LEDs can even be used as communicating networks, using pulses of light to transmit data? LEDs are our future home and business networks. They might even be used in cars to automatically brake if you’re traveling too fast and about to hit the car in front of you.
If you care about innovation, you should welcome an LED future. Enough of this political nonsense to save an inefficient technology from the Edison age.
Follow Electronic House
Steven Castle is Electronic House's managing editor. he has been writing about consumer electronics, homes and energy efficiency topics for two decades. He is also the co-founder of GreenTech Advocates