The Dernogalizer

July 6, 2009

Revenge of the Incandescent Light Bulb

Filed under: Energy/Climate — Matt Dernoga @ 8:29 pm
Tags: , , ,

I came across a very interesting article in the New York Times about how new incandescent light bulbs are becoming incredibly more efficient so that their producers can still compete with CFL bulbs.  I think this is a fantastic example about how if you set higher standards for our energy production and efficiency, the market will innovate.  Excerpts below.

“When Congress passed a new energy law two years ago, obituaries were written for the incandescent light bulb. The law set tough efficiency standards, due to take effect in 2012, that no traditional incandescent bulb on the market could meet, and a century-old technology that helped create the modern world seemed to be doomed.”

“Researchers across the country have been racing to breathe new life intoThomas 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.”

“For lighting researchers involved in trying to save the incandescent bulb, the goal is to come up with one that matches the energy savings of fluorescent bulbs while keeping the qualities that many consumers seem to like in incandescents, like the color of the light and the ease of using them with dimmers.”

“And a wave of innovation appears to be coming. David Cunningham, an inventor in Los Angeles with a track record of putting lighting innovations on the market, has used more than $5 million of his own money to develop a reflective coating and fixture design that he believes could make incandescents 100 percent more efficient.”

“Mr. Calwell predicts “a lot more flavors” of incandescent bulbs coming out in the future. “It’s hard to be an industry leader in the crowded C.F.L field,” he said. “But a company could truly differentiate itself with a better incandescent.”



  1. […] This post was Twitted by dbribs […]

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  3. Interesting Matt…

    But of course it doesn’t justify banning ordinary light bulbs:

    Americans choose to buy ordinary light bulbs around 9 times out of 10.
    Banning what Americans want gives the supposed savings – no point in banning an impopular product!

    If new LED lights -or improved incandescents- are good,
    people will buy them – no need to ban ordinary light bulbs (little point).
    If they are not good, people will not buy them – no need to ban ordinary light bulbs (no point).

    The arrival of the transistor didn’t mean that more energy using radio tubes had to be banned… they were bought less anyway.

    All lights have their advantages.
    The ordinary simple light bulb has for many people a pleasing appearance, it responds quickly with bright broad spectrum light, is easy to use with dimmers and other equipment, can come in small sizes, and has safely been used for over 100 years.

    100 W+ equivalent brightness is a particular issue – difficult and expensive with both fluorescents and LEDS – yet such incandescent bulbs are apparently first in line for banning (as in the EU)!

    There are also problems in achieving small size bright bulbs with fluorescents and LEDS, while halogens, related to ordinary bulbs, are only slightly more efficient, and will gradually be phased out too given the proposed efficiency limits.

    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?

    Anyone say emissions?
    OK: 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.

    For a referenced list of reasons against light bulb bans, see onwards


    Comment by peterdub — July 7, 2009 @ 4:25 pm | Reply

    • Thanks Peter, even though I don’t agree with you. Emissions reductions are a major political and technological challenge given the rate at which they must be done. Coal/gas processing technology is slow in coming, and energy substitution takes time. Our energy usage is expected to grow a lot both worldwide, and in the US. More efficient light bulbs, and energy efficiency in general are low-hanging fruit that help reduce energy usage and emissions, along with saving money. To argue that our energy economy shouldn’t run efficiently because Americans like ordinary inefficient light bulbs doesn’t come off as a wise move economically or in efforts to reduce emissions. By mandating higher light bulb standards, we’ve encouraged the private sector to actually innovate in an area where they’ve sat on their hands for decades, and they have. I don’t see the harm. I certainly see a whole lot of benefits.

      I don’t know what you think is powering Washington State, Seattle, New York, or Los Angeles, but unless it’s magic pixie dust it certainly isn’t emissions free.

      Comment by Matt Dernoga — July 7, 2009 @ 8:03 pm | Reply

  4. Matt, I agree that it’s good to deal with fossil fuel emissions – though perhaps more because of all else they contain, rather than CO2

    RE I don’t know what you think is powering Washington State, Seattle, New York, or Los Angeles, but unless it’s magic pixie dust it certainly isn’t emissions free.
    = Nuclear power, hydropower (latter especially in Washington State. These sources are in practice emission-free, at least copmpared to fossil fuels.

    RE Having to have energy efficiency regulation as well as dealing directly with emsiisions
    I deal with this on my website also.

    See onwards:
    … the argument that “Carbon emission reduction in electricity production and distribution is too slow and expensive for all concerned, we must also act on consumption, banning products that don’t meet defined efficiency standards” doesn’t hold up:

    1. Because the lowering of emissions from electricity generation and distribution can be addressed in several ways, not all of which need take time, and some of which need organizational skills rather than money.
    = onwards

    2. Because there are numerous disadvantages to consumers of efficiency-defined bans.
    = onwards

    3. Because energy and emission savings from such bans are not as great as assumed anyway.

    4. Because -while it should not be needed- appropriate and temporary taxation on products that would otherwise be banned, not only raises funds for relevant environmental projects, but taxation quickly limits and redirects consumption for the time required, with more adaptability regarding scope and application than bans, and is more acceptable than a ban on what people want to buy. In compensation higher efficient lights could have lower sales taxes than today.

    Comment by Peter — July 10, 2009 @ 9:20 am | Reply

    • Hey Peter, I agree that these coastal areas have less in the way of emissions, but they certainly are not emissions free. I know natural gas(while clean burning) is growing out west. Also if you look at this source for coal in the states it’s obviously less than elsewhere, but Wash. State still ranks only 38/50 states regarding coal usage.

      As for the rest of the argument, I’ll leave it saying that we have a different philosophy on the role and usefulness of government involvement in emissions reductions and energy usage through standards and mandates. In my opinion if we hadn’t passed major environmental laws such as the Clean Water Act and Clean Air Act which set standards forcing the private sector to innovate, we’d be choking on our air and water.

      Comment by Matt Dernoga — July 10, 2009 @ 2:25 pm | Reply

  5. […] as I noted a few months ago, increasing our light bulb standards has resulted in better, more efficient incandescent bulbs, […]

    Pingback by HUH?!? « The Dernogalizer — October 4, 2009 @ 10:22 pm | Reply

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