Monday, December 24, 2007

In 2012, Most of the Light Bulbs in Your Home will be Illegal For Stores to Sell

The new energy bill signed this week makes it official. When 2012 hits, stores can no longer sell the cheap but inefficient incandescent light bulbs that are fixtures in most homes.

Even so, light bulb manufacturers say that worries about greenhouse gases and the high cost of energy had them moving away from conventional incandescents way before Congress weighed in. For quite some time, they note, they have been trying to soften the light emitted by compact fluorescent lights, bring down the cost of light-emitting diodes — and yes, find ways to increase the efficiency of incandescents.

Many of the products are already on the market, and more will be available before the deadline kicks in,

“Sure, you’ll see more compact fluorescents five years from now, but you would have seen them without any energy bill,” said the chief executive of Osram Sylvania, Charlie Jerabek.

Michael B. Petras Jr., vice president of GE Consumer and Industrial — the unit that includes General Electric’s lighting business — broadened the thought to all forms of lighting. “You’ll see different light sources for your decorative chandelier, for your recessed lighting and for your under-cabinet lights,” he said. “And I can assure you that all the kinds of light sources are already getting a lot more efficient.”

Including incandescents.

Congress has not specifically outlawed incandescent bulbs, only inefficient ones.

In February, G.E. said that it was developing a high-efficiency incandescent that will radiate more than twice the light of conventional incandescents. It expects to make that one commercially available by 2010, and one that is twice as efficient a few years later.

And so far, consumers have been slow to give new products a chance. Compact fluorescents, for example, are already ubiquitous in stores. Many retailers, led by Wal-Mart, have promoted the economics of the bulbs — though compact fluorescents generally cost six times what incandescents do, they last six times as long and use far less energy.

The EnergyStar program of the Environmental Protection Agency has been pushing compact fluorescents for almost nine years.

“People realize that incandescents are an old, inefficient technology,” an EnergyStar spokeswoman, Maria Vargas, said.

The promotions have had modest success. Mr. Jerabek said Sylvania’s sales of compact fluorescents doubled in 2006 over 2005, and doubled again this year. But, he notes, they still account for 15 percent of bulbs in use in homes.

Sylvania recently introduced a fluorescent that Mr. Jerabek said mimicked the light of incandescents. He concedes that incandescents are about 10 percent warmer, but he insists that “the average consumer would have trouble detecting the difference.”

Compact fluorescent lights have problems beyond light quality. They contain mercury, and few recycling centers will accept them. So at the end of life, they still pose an environmental hazard.

“We’re working to reduce mercury, but the amount will never go to zero,” Mr. Petras said.

That is why Mr. Jerabek, for one, calls compact fluorescent lights “a temporary fix.”

Manufacturers are putting a lot of stock in light-emitting diodes — or L.E.D.’s. They operate with chips made of nontoxic materials and last for about 50,000 hours, compared with 1,000 hours for an incandescent and 6,000 for a compact fluorescent. A tiny L.E.D. can shed as much light as a cumbersome bulb, which makes them easier to integrate into a home’s d├ęcor. And, they are extremely energy efficient.

But today, they are too expensive to use for all lighting applications. And, while manufacturers are able to make pretty good colored L.E.D.’s — the kind that are already available for Christmas tree lights — they have yet to perfect a white L.E.D. that would be useful for lighting homes.

Manufacturers are working to get the costs down and the white lighting quotient up. Most predict that white L.E.D.’s will be commercially viable in a few years.

“Most C.F.L.’s meet the EnergyStar specs now, and all of us are optimistic about the prospects for L.E.D.’s,” Ms. Vargas said.

But even though the energy bill has not changed the direction of lighting research, most manufacturers are relieved to have a federal standard in place.

“If each state passed its own rules for light bulb efficiency, we’d have to make 50 different types,” Mr. Jerabek said. “Now we can all standardize our production techniques.”

Source [NYTimes]

1 comment:

  1. There are some LED light bulbs that are viable right now. You can find directional spot and track lights that work just as good as halogen bulbs, but use only a fraction of the energy. For general illumination bulbs, you should wait a year or so, as the technology is not yet ready.