Light Bulbs

Tom Alte
Energy Efficient Lighting

                When it comes to energy efficient lighting, there are a multitude of ideas and models being developed, but two types have come to the forefront mostly because they offer different benefits while eliminating the same cons caused by incandescent bulbs.  Compact Florescent Lights (referred to as CFLs) are exactly what they sound like.  They are scaled down bulbs tailored to use less energy while still providing an acceptable level of light.  Depending on the make and model, a CFL bulb can use 50-80% less energy than it’s florescent counterpart.  These bulbs are also economically beneficial.  A higher initial cost usually wards of buyers, but the bulb recovers these costs over its life.  These bulbs also last up to 10 times longer than a regular bulb.  When used in a highly efficient manner, a single bulb can save the buyer $45 over its lifetime.  These bulbs are also developed to meet and exceed the convenience of other bulbs.  Most CFLs are produced in a way that emits a warmer, more natural, light that is easier on the eyes.  They also don’t cause the “hum” noise associated with some lights.  With the increased exposure and market for these bulbs, they are developed in a variety of shapes and sizes to fit all consumer needs.  They’re even fitted to work with dimmers and timers to offer additional convenience to customers.  Unfortunately, CFLs do offer a few drawbacks that are worth noting.  CFLs are highly sensitive to on/off cycling.  When these bulbs are used in an environment where they are cycled several times a day, they can lose a good portion of their lifespan, hence reducing their net savings.  They suffer the same drawbacks for bulbs not designed to handle the previously mentioned dimming feature and timer feature.  The bulbs will handle these conditions, but the lifespan will be reduced from their use.  For all these reasons, as well as the nature of their light output, these bulbs are better suited to factory, warehouse, or open store applications.[1]

                Light Emitting Diodes (LED) bulbs seem to offer many of the pros of CFLs but without many of the associated cons.  LED bulbs can last 10 times longer than CFL bulbs under correct conditions and, therefore, far outlast any traditional bulb.  The durability of an LED is considered a marvel in the industry.  They produce very little heat and contain no filament, which means they cause little damage to the area around them and are much harder to break than a traditional or CFL bulb.  The low heat also reduces cooling costs, making them even more economically efficient.  Due to their small size, they’re also much better suited for applications like flashlights, Christmas lights, and smaller accent lighting.  These bulbs also hold promise for their use in remote areas.  Since they use such a low amount of energy, they can be tied in with a small solar panel for use in lighting highways, service stops, and hazards.  The only real con to the LED bulbs is their higher initial cost.  While this cost is still recuperated over its lifetime, the base cost causes some consumers to choose with a more short-term outlook.[2]

                One aspect of CFL bulbs which has gotten attention is their perceived negative environmental impact.  It is true that CFL bulbs contain a small amount of mercury.  The fears associated with this are highly overblown.  It is recommended that if a bulb breaks, you open a window and leave the room for 15 minutes, but this is simply a recommendation mainly aimed at pregnant women and is much less dangerous than a broken mercury thermometer (which contains about 500mg of mercury).  Most major cities offer disposal programs for mercury.  In other areas, the small amount of mercury (about 3-5mg) is safe to be disposed in the trash.  So long as common sense is used, this sometimes dangerous material is not anything for a consumer to be worried about.[3]

                Finally, it’s important to realize that this technology is constantly being improved.  For instance, researchers are exploring options for manufacture that will drastically reduce the initial cost of a LED bulb, making them a much easier choice to make for families on a budget.  CFL bulbs are also the subject of innovation.  Researchers are currently developing bulbs which can function on 1-2mg of mercury, meaning that it would take close to 500 broken bulbs to match the danger of one thermometer.  With these advancements, along with an educated consumer base, it isn’t hard to envision a world where all homes use high efficiency lighting.  Harder to comprehend, but factual still, is that this move could reduce the home energy consumption of our nation by 25%.  A reduction of that level would improve the lives of consumers as well as improving the stability of the nation itself.

[1] Energy Efficient Lighting.  Published by 2009.  Accessed Sept 10 2009.

[2] Energy Efficient Lighting.  Published by 2009.  Accessed Sept 10 2009.

[3] CFL Mercury Light Bulbs.  Published by 2009.  Accessed Sept 10 2009.