May 8, 2007 12:00 PM PDT

Will the feds phase out traditional lightbulbs?

Will the feds phase out traditional lightbulbs?
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The U.S. Senate is examining ideas for phasing out incandescent lightbulbs in favor of more energy-efficient types of lighting, a move that could help curb greenhouse gas emissions and electrical consumption.

The Energy Committee of the Senate is working on a bill, which may hit the Senate floor later this month, that will ask the federal government to set national standards for energy efficiency. A coalition of consumer groups and manufacturers is now trying to come up with standards for lighting to support that goal. Among the ideas being discussed is phasing out standard incandescent bulbs over the course of about a decade.

The move builds on the momentum to phase out incandescent bulbs, which are less expensive but consume far more power than do compact fluorescent bulbs, light-emitting diodes and systems that bring sunlight indoors.

In February, California Assemblyman Lloyd Levine introduced a bill banning incandescent bulbs in California by 2012. It was criticized as another example of kooky California legislation. But since then, legislation banning incandescent bulbs has been introduced in Ottawa and Australia.

There are about 4 billion screw-in sockets containing incandescent bulbs in the United States, according to a spokesman for the Energy Committee. Incandescent bulbs are also incredibly inefficient.

Some researchers estimate that more than 90 percent of the energy that goes into these bulbs gets converted into heat, not light. That's why Easy-Bake ovens work. (Some incandescent-lightbulb fans like to claim that the bulbs help heat their home, but it's a fairly inefficient way to heat a room. Ceiling lamps, after all, end up heating the ceiling.)

Approximately 22 percent of the energy consumed in the United States goes toward lighting, according to the Department of Energy. Approximately 52 percent of the electricity generated in the United States is produced by coal. The hope is that the switch to more efficient lights will lead to the need to burn less coal or build fewer new coal plants.

If legislation is passed, the most likely immediate beneficiaries will be manufacturers of compact fluorescent bulbs, those curlicue bulbs promoted by retailers like Wal-Mart Stores. Compact fluorescent bulbs cost more, but they use about 25 percent of the energy of an equivalent incandescent.

LED manufacturers, though, would likely benefit too. LED bulbs are actually somewhat rare right now, and they cost significantly more than regular lightbulbs. LED lamps, though, are coming down in price. Advocates also say the quality of light is better than what's available from fluorescents.

But don't count out incandescent bulbs completely. General Electric says it plans to come out with incandescent bulbs by 2010 that will be as energy-efficient as compact fluorescents.

Some manufacturers actually make all of these types of lights.

Then there are the more novel ideas. Fiberstars has come up with a system for lighting freezer cases in stores with fiber-optic cables. Other companies have come up with organic light-emitting diodes, or OLEDs, that could turn an entire wall into a lamp.

Legislation banning products has often come under fire from some politicians and economists, but it has worked. In the mid-1970s, appliance manufacturers vigorously fought energy efficiency regulations in California for appliances like refrigerators.

The regulations passed and led to a creative wellspring in appliance design. Now refrigerators consume less than half the electricity of older models but hold more food and cost less, in terms of real dollars.

See more CNET content tagged:
lightbulb, diode, light-emitting diode, organic light-emitting diode, energy

77 comments

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Not a magic bullet ...
Let's not forget there are trace amounts of mercury in all CFL bulbs. Although small, add up all the bulbs and you can see a potential problem ... not to mention the risk to sanitation workers of broken bulbs, etc. Most people aren't even aware of this.
Posted by msanto (44 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Mercury
I was going to add that in, but couldn't get exact amount at press time, so thanks for pointing that out. To me, the biggest beef with CFLs is the light quality. I look like I just thew up under them.
Posted by michael kanellos (65 comments )
Link Flag
Mercury
I was going to add that in, but couldn't get exact amount at press time, so thanks for pointing that out. To me, the biggest beef with CFLs is the light quality. I look like I just thew up under them.
Posted by michael kanellos (65 comments )
Link Flag
Mercury
Exactly. While the amount of Mercury is small, multiplied by 4 billion CFL light bulbs (if certain politicians get their way) that are being tossed into landfills each year, and you end up with a whole lot of mercury. As a politician once famously said - "a billion here, a billion there - pretty soon you're talking about real money". Well, pretty soon we're talking about a lot of mercury.

The end result is that politicians will be passing laws 20 years from now forcing us to switch to something else to clean up all our ground water that is infused with mercury because they mandated we all use CFLs.

And one more thing - CFLs will do little to impact the peak electric power requirements. Electric demand is at its highest during the weekday. This is a time when florescents are already in use for lighting in the majority of offices, schools, retail stores, and workplaces. CFL's target largely the home market, and would get used outside the peak times for electric demand (ie, night). The end result is that we'll still need the same number of electric power plants because we'll still need to meet the peak electric demands made during the day. All this nonsense about converting to CFL's leading to needing fewer power plants is simply BS.
Posted by LuvThatCO2 (187 comments )
Link Flag
Politicians Beware!
Politicians should not dictate technologies by law. They may urge things, they may subsidize things, but they should not rule out technologies by legislation. Neither they not their all-wise advisors are competent to decide such things. Let the marketplace decide. When something better comes along, free enterprise and free choice will ensure that it succeeds. It has worked well for us in the past. Cheers. M.Hat.
Posted by M.Hat (18 comments )
Reply Link Flag
I agree
Thank you for saying that. If it weren't like that, then we would still be riding around on horses although cars are so much more efficient. In addition, ppl go for the cheapest product, and if this kind of left-winged legislation is passed, ppl would be forced to buy a more expensive product.
I don't agree that the gov't should subsidize stuff, though, because that money comes from the bank accounts of tax payers, which means that greater subsidization equals greater taxes.
Posted by sfm241 (3 comments )
Link Flag
I second that
When the government starts to outlaw things like that, that's when America will become communist. That's how it is down there.....

Can't do this, can't **** here, can't **** here, can't have kids here, can't speak here, must do this.

A smart politician would never do this, he would get voted out, like the stupid Bush administration and anyone that had anything to do with them will soon.
Posted by RompStar_420 (772 comments )
Link Flag
You Americans are so last century...
You are sitting there using computer chips and an Internet both chosen, and funded, by politicians and their Defense Department that spent public money for 'national defense'. Paying millions of dollars for tiny integrated circuits to control missiles led directly to the chips in your computer, that the 'free market' never could have incubated (how many 'first adopter consumers' would have paid $10 million for the first generation calculators using this technology ?)
And DARPA funded the early ARPANET as a way to keep up communications between American cities in the event of nuclear war (networks that could withstand catastrophic failure). I'm sure THAT would have been a real self-starter in the 'free market'.
Grow up. 'Free enterprise' and 'free market' is comic-book reasoning for impressionable young Republicans. The world doesn't work that way.

Maybe your grandchildren can explain it to you in Chinese...

And the 'American free market' did wonders for the Auto Industry, yeah... Extinct Ford Excursions as the tombstone of a dinosaur American company, as Toyota passes them by, embracing the 21st century. Toyota had a cooperative government, national health care for their employees, politician-planned R&D for decades... Oh I'm sorry, that wasn't in your 'American Economics 101' comic book ?

Zaijian, American Empire !
Posted by NotMyPlanetMonkeyBoy (2 comments )
Link Flag
How about our toilets too?
Maybe next they can "mandate" how much water a toilet uses.. One flush per squat.

I intend to light my house with a 1w white argon laser.. I can route little mittors all over the house to light in every room. Ok I'm jokeing but it would be cool.
Posted by Solaris_User (267 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Only
not for urinating. In the name of water conservation, (the icecaps are melting so we'll have less water) we'll have to further conserve. Also, I recommend only wiping a couple of times in order to save the trees. (Rich liberals are exempt of course.) Further, we know that people will cheat so we'll have to implement a tax on extra flushes. This will be accompanied by a monitoring device to record the flushes, at taxpayers expense of course. Perhaps we will be able to give some foreign company/country some carbon credits to make them for us.

Seriously though, I intend to light my home any damn way I please.
Posted by suyts (824 comments )
Link Flag
They already got that one...
Toilet manufacturers are federally mandated to make toilets that use no more than 1.6 gallons of water per flush.

Your tax dollars at work, and the result of everybody who continues to vote Democrat or Republican -- they're both the same, they want more control over what you and I do -- even when it comes to lighting our homes and flushing our toilets.
Posted by Jay Jennings (80 comments )
Link Flag
As with all recent moves to reduce pollutions remember the trade offs
The move to fluorescent bulbs has its own pitfgalls. Remember that these little gems contain mercury and require "proper disposal" not to mention what you deal with if you break one in your home or office. Also (having gone through the switch over to fluorescent bulbs in a part of my home you will find you need to use more and larger bulbs to get the same light and ass they get older the bulbs put out even less light.
Posted by rwellinghurst (8 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Ban Private Jets
The politicians on the Energy Committee of the Senate must live
in an alternative universe where laws are never stupid, as this
one certainly is.

Half the lights in my apartment are fluorescent because they
stay on for a long time each day in areas where a lot of light is
needed. There they make sense.

Half the lights in my apartment are incandescent because little
light is needed in those areas and, unlike fluorescents,
incandescents can be dimed down to use less power. They're
attached to dimming controls.

MESSAGE TO CONGRESS: This illustrates a point that comes up
often in our relationship. I'm smart and you're stupid. There's no
need for you to keep coming up with these dumb ideas to
demonstrate that point yet one more time. It's a fact that we
both must live with.

If you're absolutely obessed with saving electricity because you
think the earth's about to become a cinder ball, adopt two
policies that'll only affect you and your rich celebrity buddies:


1. Turn off all the lights that illuminate government buildings in
DC, particularly the Capitol dome. And never, never, never fly by
private jet.

2. Take up Michael Crieghton's suggestion and ban all private
jets in the US except for medical transport. Let your rich and
celebrity buddies fly commercial like the rest of us.

--Mike Perry, Seattle
Posted by InklingBooks (90 comments )
Reply Link Flag
But then
They wouldn't be able to get to their all important jobs of photo ops and speeches to sycophants. They believe that they are above the requirements they put on us. We certainly can't have them all on the road. Just look at New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine, or New Mexico Gov. Bill Richardson or Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell or worse yet South Dakota Rep. Bill Janklow who actually killed a person. It was determined that he was on the job so taxpayers have to foot the bill for the $25,000,000 lawsuit that ensued.
Posted by suyts (824 comments )
Link Flag
Electrical engineer ?
The incandecent lights that use less energy when dimmed are just
heating up the dimmer instead of the bulb... Keeping the bulb dim
seems a specialty of yours...
Posted by Al E. Gator (21 comments )
Link Flag
This is fine provided...
They make cities and counties do something to make recycling the highly toxic replacements easier. I am not going to have the old burnt out florescent bulbs laying around and I am not driving 25 miles to my closest toxics recycling center to get rid of them.

I honestly don't see how the florescent bulbs are any better. Sure they save power but they are toxic, incandescent aren't. With all of the extra driving need to dispose of the florescent ones that is going to add to the pollution.

I think it is a bunch of pooh! myself.

Robert
Posted by Heebee Jeebies (632 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Energy efficient lamps
Other than the small lights in microwave, oven, icebox and outside shed our house is all fluorescent. And has been for a long time. Biggest ones are in shop. Twin forty watts fixture. It would take three times the wattage in filament lamps to light the bench. Even our porch lights are on a watt diet.

I can hardly wait for the solid state lamps that are even more efficient.

Disclosure: I own stock in four electric companies and it will be advantage to them (and our dividends) in not building ever larger generation plants, transmission lines and pollution controls.

Perhaps a wattage tax on hot filament lamps would speed the transition. Consider that California has about a tenth the population of US it alone might be the trigger to make change over a done deal.

Final thought: Since the lower power used and lack of hot filament, the surface is only warm to the touch. That should reduce fire risks significantly. Our bed lamps are cool, and unlikely to start a bedding fire compared to ordinary lamps.
Posted by bigduke (78 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Why tax the bulbs?
Just tax the energy.
Why should someone who likes incandescents but keeps his lights off be penalized, compared to someone who uses fluorescents but leaves his lights on?

And bedding fires are nearly always caused by smoking or candles, so that's a non-issue.
Posted by dmm (336 comments )
Link Flag
Never Mentioned
Both the use of Mercury and that, legally, we must pay to dispose of these "messiah's of energy consumption." No one ever reports the disposal cost. One old lady, having broke a CFL in her house called the EPA to ask how to clean it up, $2000 later, it was clean. Not to mention that when people start throwing these things away (improperly) in mass, that we will start hearing about Mercury showing up in our ground water. What a waste of time in the name of "progress" and "environment."
Posted by wasnot (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Its just
peoples money that prob have too much any way. This is just another way to redistribute the wealth. ie. take from one that has earned it and give to someone they wish to have it.
Posted by suyts (824 comments )
Link Flag
Urban Legend
Broken CFLs do NOT require the EPA to clean up your house for you. You've been had.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.snopes.com/medical/toxins/cfl.asp" target="_newWindow">http://www.snopes.com/medical/toxins/cfl.asp</a>


I've got some great dot-com stock that I'd like to sell. Would you like some?
Posted by brief (186 comments )
Link Flag
It still uses more water
yes, and I use more water than I otherwise would have, just washing the plunger off after un-clogging my toilet due to the lack of volume pushing out the crap in my toilet!
Posted by wasnot (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Legislate the level not the technology
The politicans are tredding on dangerous ground when they set out to ban a particular technology (in this case incadescent light bulbs) rather than definining a mandatory level of energy efficiency for the light bulb.

It would be far more effective to state that the energy efficiency of a light bulb producing X lumens must be Y as even if incadescent light bulbs can not produce this level of efficiency today as it would allow companies (like GE) the flexibility to improve the incandescent light bulb if they think they can make it efficient enough.
Posted by BPMac (7 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Or,
just don't legislate. Let the people decide. If they want or believe they need less power usage, they will utilize the available options.
Posted by suyts (824 comments )
Link Flag
Fluorescent bulbs are great if you like green light..!!
Incandescent bulbs put out a light which most resembles that of
our sun where as fluorescent bulbs create an unnatural greenish
light. If incandescent bulbs are to be removed from the shelves
before an exact replacement (power saving) bulb is developed you
can be sure I'll be buying hundreds of incandescent bulbs in
advance of such a ban.
Posted by imacpwr (456 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Huh?
The light from standard incadescent bulbs is yellow compared to sunlight. Talk to any photographer.
Posted by WDS2 (183 comments )
Link Flag
M. GRACE DESIGNS, INC.
Fantastic News! CFL- LIGHT BULBS, Compact Florescent use 66% less energy and last up to 10 times longer which saves our company 20% on energy bills.

Our lighting project benefit as well!
Posted by M. GRACE DESIGNS (6 comments )
Reply Link Flag
That's very good.
Now, if you just had the government to dictate as to how to deploy those lights, think how much better you'll be.
Posted by suyts (824 comments )
Link Flag
Dear Sirs:
As a guy who has replaced damned near every light bulb in his abode with a CFL or LED type, I like them... they last a lot longer, they save on the power bill, and pretty much pay for themselves over the long haul.

That said, now I know to avoid your company studiously, and will advise others to do the same.

Any company that would stoop to your level of spamming would just as easily stoop to shoddy materials and/or workmanship.

IOW: **** off.

/P
Posted by Penguinisto (5042 comments )
Link Flag
About Changing Old Style Light bulbs
My question is what does a consumer do when the New CFL Lightbulbs break or need to be disposed of. Many folks do not know that there is "Powdered Mercury" In side. I have read where people have had to spend $2000.00 hard earned Bucks to get the mess cleaned up. So what is being done about this problem?
Posted by Mark5254 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Don't they have important things to do?
Seems to me that they should phase out gas guzzling vehicles too. Leave it all alone, if people are willing to spend their money on it, then merchants should be able to make a living selling these things. If they are not illegal then find incentives for people to change.
Posted by LarryDeickman (2 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Don't they have important things to do?
You, like most Americans will criticize whatever changes are made to protect the environment, yet when a catastrophe occurs, will be the first in line to blame those in charge for inaction.
Posted by docplaster (6 comments )
Link Flag
LED lights flicker too much
I can't stand LED lights, especially those new traffic lights are an LED matrix. They flicker too much and cause me eye strain.

Flourescent light bulbs in a house cause too much shortwave and AM radio interference (yes, there are some of us who care about that). The light produced by them is not full spectrum either.

Getting rid of incandescent bulbs is not the total answer. Unless a new type of bulb is invented that does as well as incandescent bulbs, don't ban them!
Posted by dmine45 (10 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Err
The LEDs used in traffic lights were the cheapest quality possible. That's why they're going out.

The other problem is size. LEDs currently can't be too large or they experience issues, unlike incandescents which could be as big as they really want to be.

High quality LEDs, such as those used in flat panel display indicators, can last for years without going out. Some are so strong they can effectively light part of a room. And that's just a TV indicator.
Posted by ReVeLaTeD (755 comments )
Link Flag
Led's don't flicker
Alternating current and switching power supplies cause the
flickering...Led's are direct current devices and if fed a constant
voltage don't flicker... the great waste of energy in converting our
distributed ac to dc by almost everything that uses electricity is
conveniently ignored.
Posted by Al E. Gator (21 comments )
Link Flag
Yes and no...
You're quite right about the AM interference. This can effect broadcast band, shortwave, amateur radio, etc... There has to be a better solution.

But LED flicker? I've seen fluorescent bulbs flicker, but not LED.
Posted by ddesy (4336 comments )
Link Flag
Late breaking news just in!!!:::
Government [i]legislates[/i] US back to the Dark Ages.

Candle Manufacturers [b]GET READY TO RU-U-U-MMMMBLLLLLE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Posted by btljooz (401 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Misleading stats
The article mentioned that the DOE claims that 22% of energy is used for lighting. This is a
very misleading statistic with respect to these flourescent bulbs, since most of the energy for lighting involves office buildings , highways, etc. that already use flourescent fixytures. Residential lighting is where you find the vast bulk of incandescents, and there 8.8% of U.S. energy is used for lighting. Of course, residential lighting also includes some flourescent which wouldn't be affected.
Another problem with these bulbs is that they use mercury and would have to be recycled. Another problem is that there are no versions at the present that are 3 way bulbs and none that can be used to replace candelabra and other specialty type bulbs. I use the new bulbs msot places in my home - they save money and last a very long time-
a 60 watt equivalent bulb only uses 12 watts. I do want three way bulbs, however.
Posted by theBike45 (90 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Been using 3-way CFL for 2 years
You have a point about residential vs commercial usage, as well as the mercury content. Although the mercury content in each CFL is minuscule, it can be cleaned up effectively by yourself if one were to break in your residence. Disposal will be an issue, since you can't just throw them away in the trash.

But I've been using a 3-way CFL in my livingroom for about two years now. There are also more decorative CFLs, and even dimmable ones, although they do cost more. Some of them might fit your candelabra/specialty bulbs.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.1000bulbs.com/category.php?category=14" target="_newWindow">http://www.1000bulbs.com/category.php?category=14</a>
Posted by brief (186 comments )
Link Flag
they should ban Al Gore's private jet
Gore's private jet pollutes more than the light bulb in my kitchen
Posted by RandyLado (16 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Terrible light, toxic waste
Quick choose...

Global warming

or

Mercury Poisoning.

I'll stick to Incandescents.
Posted by adlyb1 (123 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not quite
Yes the compacts have mercury in them and there is a complete disregard for this by every major news source. But there is also a website listed on the back of the compacts' case (at least on the ones I buy) which tells you how to recycle the bulbs so that you don't just throw them away and pollute. I have yet to use this service, however. Having said that, I am against regulations forcing compacts to be used because they have to be recycled and only about 25% of Americans recycle normally so I estimate that at least 75% of compacts will be thrown away and mercury levels in soil and animals will sky rocket once the bulbs stop working (though they are guaranteed for at least five years, but they can stop earlier and not everyone will have saved their receipts etc...).
Posted by internetz (1 comment )
Link Flag
On, off, speed controls, and cold
The CFLs I've tried burned out quick when used where I only needed it on for a couple of minutes to find something. They also seem to burn out when plugged into the same outlet as an electronic speed control for a motor. These design flaws need to be addressed.

I doubt CFLs will ever work very well in an area subject to temperature extremes, like a front porch in northern climates. The bulbs start out dim and get stronger as the bulb warms. It's going to overheat if it starts bright at -20F.
Posted by Phillep_H (497 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Not everything is created equal
The first batch of CFLs I bought (from local stores like Lamps Plus, Walmart, etc.) weren't so great.

Like you said, they "start out dim" and take a few seconds before getting to full brightness. They also give off a horrible color, and some weren't as bright as their incandescent counterparts.

It depends on what company makes them. I haven't been back to the local stores for CFLs, so I don't know if they've stocked better quality CFLs. I did, however, find better ones online. These were brighter, had better color, and turned to full brightness instantly.

One thing that I haven't tried is to put one where there would be extreme temperatures, so I don't know if they've improved the technology on that end. But considering the other improvements, it's not unlikely that such a issue might have also been addressed.
Posted by brief (186 comments )
Link Flag
Good points.
Most fluorescents are used on dedicated circuits, where they do fine. But if they're not, there can be problems with voltage fluctuations and RFI due to other things on shared circuits. My experience with the longevity of CFLs in plug-in lamps has also been disappointing, and I suspect that's the reason. There still seems to be some work needed to make them a truly suitable substitutes for incandescents in some situations.
Posted by Igiveup2 (190 comments )
Link Flag
flourescent bulbs
are terrible for the environment. They contain mercury. I think LEDs show promise, (as do the mentioned OLEDs, especially for auto-darkening windows and such). I think that if a practical, backward compatible (to current sockets) LED lamp were released now, it would have tremendous success. I know I would buy one, bulbs get hot on your face when you're slaving over a project that needs lots of light for hours.
Posted by shadzofsilver (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
How will that get mercury out of carpet?
Those instructions won't remove Mercury from carpet...
Posted by guywayne (5 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Are we ready Phase out traditional light bulbs?
1. There are many types of incandesent bulbs. (i.e. standard, flood, spot, candle, fan, decorative globe, etc.) The coil flourescents can only replace the standard type.

2. There are many environments that must be served (i.e. enclosed fixtures, outdoor, wet environments such as bathroom or kitchen.) Some flourescent products are labeled as unsuitable for these envrionments others say nothing about suitability.

Therefore I only use them in ordinary room lamps and even there results have been mixed.
Posted by Fredzee (3 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Lifespan statements don't appear valid
I've put quite a few florescent bulbs in and the 6 times lifespan statement is not holding up. There seem to be places where the incandescents don't last and the fluorescents don't last there either. Every house I've ever lived in has those places where bulbs just don't last long. I've replaced more fluorescents that I should have and with each one I throw in the garbage I look at all the extra engineering, manufacturing and energy consumption that obviously goes into their manufacture. What is the energy cost of producing these bulbs? How does that increase relate to the life cycle costs. It's beginning to look like the real reason is price. There is so much more room for profit in the florescent bulbs. If I have to put fluorescents in those short lived places then I know I'll be wasting energy not saving it.
Posted by consumer22 (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
 

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