Story URL: http://news.medill.northwestern.edu/chicago/news.aspx?id=176535
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Battle of the bulbs: Compact fluorescent bulbs and LEDs punch Edison’s lights out

by Matthew O'Connor
Jan 19, 2011


incandescent bulbs

Matthew O'Connor/MEDILL

The U.S. will begin to phase out incandescent bulbs in 2012

The light bulb war is well underway. The Bush administration landed the first blow with the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 requiring bulbs be 25 to 30 percent more efficient by 2012 to 2014, and 70 percent more efficient by 2020, effectively phasing out traditional incandescent bulbs.
 
“Incandescent bulbs are the least efficient technology we have that’s commonly used in the US,” said Wendy Davis, a vision scientist in the Optical Technology Division at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. “In that regard we absolutely will save energy if we switch technology.”
 
Swedish retail giant IKEA pulled the plug on incandescent lights earlier this month in favor of energy saving compact fluorescent bulbs, commonly known as CFLs, and even more efficient LED lamps.
 
Stores in California started to phase out the bulbs under a state law that went into effect Jan. 1. A Home Depot spokeswoman said customers can still find incandescent bulbs on  her company's shelves, but once the current stock is gone, the lights won’t be available.
 
This marks the most significant revolution in home lighting since Thomas Edison developed usable incandescent bulbs in 1879.
 
“We’ve seen the trend going toward energy efficient lighting long before the phase out began,” said Kathryn Gallagher, a representative with The Home Depot. “We’ve sold more than 100 million CFL bulbs over the years.”
 
With incandescent bulbs on their way out, consumers have two main options: CFLs and LEDs.
 
Phillips introduced the first compact fluorescent bulb in 1980, but mainstream adoption of the bulbs didn’t really take off until the middle of last decade. Sales doubled from 2006 to 2007 according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency.
 
Energy Star CFLs use about 75 percent less energy than traditional bulbs and can last as long as 10,000 hours compared to 1,000 to 2,000 hours for an incandescent. A single CFL bulb can save more than $40 in electricity costs over its lifetime.
 
There are some drawbacks however: higher up front cost per bulb, the small amount of mercury contained in each light, and varying light quality and color. People found that early CFLs were often too bright or cast unappealing shades on the room. 
 
As CFLs have become more popular with consumers, prices have fallen dramatically. Incandescent 60 watt bulbs sell for around 40 cents a bulb while equivalent CFLs run between $1 and $2. Light quality issues have largely been worked out in higher-end bulbs and consumers can judge the light color using temperature ratings on the box. Ratings range from 2700 to 6500 kelvins – a measurement of temperature. Bulbs with a rating on the lower end of the spectrum, up to 3000 kelvins, provide a warm, soft color similar to incandescent bulbs, while lights at the higher end give off harsh, bright light. 
 
As for mercury content, the average CFL contains about four milligrams, compared with 12 milligrams in standard fluorescent tube lights. Mercury is only released if bulbs are broken, according to the EPA.
 
The agency has detailed instructions for safe cleanup of broken CFLs that include airing out the room, shutting off forced air heating or air conditioning and removing all debris from the home. It also recommends all CFLs be recycled rather than thrown in the trash to prevent them breaking in landfills. Bulbs can be recycled at all Home Depot stores, ACE Hardware locations as well as various recycling centers. For a complete list of recycling sites visit Earth911.com. Check www.epa.gov/cfl/cflcleanup.html for full EPA cleanup instructions.
 
LED lamps are newer to the market and promise even higher energy efficiency than CFLs.  They use up to 85 percent less electricity than incandescent bulbs and have lifetimes up to 100,000 hours. While the lamps certainly save consumers money in the long run, the initial purchasing price scares some people away.
 
“Last year we had a 40 watt equivalent that went for $40,” Gallagher said. “Now it’s $17.97.”
 
As LED technology advances consumers can expect to see a continual drop in cost. But unlike incandescent bulbs that all give off relatively predictable color and light quality, energy efficient bulbs can be hit or miss.
 
“When it comes to CFLs and LEDs there’s a larger range,” Davis said. “It’s going to be the type of product that you get what you pay for.”
 
She has been working with LEDs for the past seven years at the National Institute of Standards and Technology to produce color that appeals to the eye and to develop a color quality scale that works with both LEDs and traditional lamps.
 
“We know what people think of CFLs and we want to avoid that,” Davis said. “We would like to prevent bad LEDs from tainting people’s perception.”“Incandescent bulbs are the least efficient technology we have that’s commonly used in the US,” said Wendy Davis, a vision scientist in the Optical Technology Division at the National Institute of Standards and Technology. “In that regard we absolutely will save energy if we switch technology.”
 
Swedish retail giant IKEA pulled the plug on incandescent lights earlier this month in favor of energy saving compact fluorescent bulbs, commonly known as CFLs, and even more efficient LED lamps.
 
Stores in California started to phase out the bulbs under a state law that went into effect Jan. 1. A Home Depot spokeswoman said customers can still find incandescent bulbs on  her company's shelves, but once the current stock is gone, the lights won’t be available.
 
This marks the most significant revolution in home lighting since Thomas Edison developed usable incandescent bulbs in 1879.
 
“We’ve seen the trend going toward energy efficient lighting long before the phase out began,” said Kathryn Gallagher, a representative with The Home Depot. “We’ve sold more than 100 million CFL bulbs over the years.”
 
With incandescent bulbs on their way out, consumers have two main options: CFLs and LEDs.
 
Phillips introduced the first compact fluorescent bulb in 1980, but mainstream adoption of the bulbs didn’t really take off until the middle of last decade. Sales doubled from 2006 to 2007 according to data from the Environmental Protection Agency.
 
Energy Star CFLs use about 75 percent less energy than traditional bulbs and can last as long as 10,000 hours compared to 1,000 to 2,000 hours for an incandescent. A single CFL bulb can save more than $40 in electricity costs over its lifetime.
 
There are some drawbacks however: higher up front cost per bulb, the small amount of mercury contained in each light, and varying light quality and color. People found that early CFLs were often too bright or cast unappealing shades on the room. 
 
As CFLs have become more popular with consumers, prices have fallen dramatically. Incandescent 60 watt bulbs sell for around 40 cents a bulb while equivalent CFLs run between $1 and $2. Light quality issues have largely been worked out in higher-end bulbs and consumers can judge the light color using temperature ratings on the box. Ratings range from 2700 to 6500 kelvins – a measurement of temperature. Bulbs with a rating on the lower end of the spectrum, up to 3000 kelvins, provide a warm, soft color similar to incandescent bulbs, while lights at the higher end give off harsh, bright light.  
 
As for mercury content, the average CFL contains about four milligrams, compared with 12 milligrams in standard fluorescent tube lights. Mercury is only released if bulbs are broken, according to the EPA.
 
The agency has detailed instructions for safe cleanup of broken CFLs that include airing out the room, shutting off forced air heating or air conditioning and removing all debris from the home. It also recommends all CFLs be recycled rather than thrown in the trash to prevent them breaking in landfills. Bulbs can be recycled at all Home Depot stores, ACE Hardware locations as well as various recycling centers. For a complete list of recycling sites visit Earth911.com. Check www.epa.gov/cfl/cflcleanup.html for full EPA cleanup instructions.
 
LED lamps are newer to the market and promise even higher energy efficiency than CFLs.  They use up to 85 percent less electricity than incandescent bulbs and have lifetimes up to 100,000 hours. While the lamps certainly save consumers money in the long run, the initial purchasing price scares some people away.
 
“Last year we had a 40 watt equivalent that went for $40,” Gallagher said. “Now it’s $17.97.”
 
As LED technology advances consumers can expect to see a continual drop in cost. But unlike incandescent bulbs that all give off relatively predictable color and light quality, energy efficient bulbs can be hit or miss.
 
“When it comes to CFLs and LEDs there’s a larger range,” Davis said. “It’s going to be the type of product that you get what you pay for.”
 
She has been working with LEDs for the past seven years at the National Institute of Standards and Technology to produce color that appeals to the eye and to develop a color quality scale that works with both LEDs and traditional lamps.
 
“We know what people think of CFLs and we want to avoid that,” Davis said. “We would like to prevent bad LEDs from tainting people’s perception.”