Goodbye Incandescent Light Bulbs... Energy-Efficient CFL's Are The Future

David Fessler
by David Fessler, Energy & Infrastructure Strategist

Goodbye Incandescent Light Bulbs... Energy-Efficient CFL's Are The Future

by David Fessler, Energy and Infrastructure Expert

Friday, April 9, 2010: Issue #1235

In 2012, one of the most common household items will go the way of the dodo.

Extinct.

Instead of lighting up living rooms across America, the trusty incandescent light bulb will have a new home in the Smithsonian. Right next to Alexander Graham Bell's original telephone and Marconi's radio.

After December 31, 2011, the federal ban on the 100-watt incandescent light bulb will take effect. Two years after that, the 60-watt and 40-watt versions will disappear from stores, too.

And the remarkable thing?

A massive 82% of Americans are totally unaware that this will happen.

So what's the deal here? In short, it's all about energy efficiency...

Thanks, For The Light Bulbs Edison... But We Need to Do Better

When it comes to the energy sector - specifically, increasing our energy independence and efficiency - you may know that I'm not afraid to bash our elected officials in Washington for their collective snooze-fest.

But Congress does get a gold star for passing the Energy Independence and Security Act in December 2007. And it's this that mandates the phasing out of the traditional light bulb.

You see, while incandescent bulbs do the job, they're actually a bigger problem than most people think.

Thomas Edison deserves plenty of credit and respect for inventing the light bulb. But they're incredibly wasteful. Around 90% of the energy created is heat and ultra-violet light, with only about 10% going towards the bulb's intended use - creating visible light.

The Incandescent Light Bulb... A Complete Waste of Energy

In this day and age, the United States and the rest of the world desperately need to cut down on wasted energy.

Consider this...

  • About 57% of the energy we start with in various products is wasted.
  • For the electric industry, it's even worse: 69% of the energy used in coal, natural gas and nuclear power generation never does useful work as electricity.

So what happens to it? It's lost through heat at the generating plants. It's lost in the wires on the way to your house. And when the power finally does reach you, the inefficiency of the appliances it's powering also causes wasted energy.

Reducing wasted energy is one of the easiest ways to mitigate our insatiable demand for energy. And given that one of biggest power users in the home is lighting, one of the easiest ways to address the problem is to make it more efficient.

What's more... it's one of the simplest things to fix...

Changing the World... One Incandescent Light Bulb At a Time

There's no doubt about some of the most profound and urgent issues that America faces...

  • Energy consumption
  • Rising gasoline costs
  • Rising utility bills
  • Greenhouse gas emissions
  • Dependence on coal
  • Dependence on foreign oil
  • Global warming

Now imagine if by just doing one thing, we could solve some of these.

And what if that one thing was as simple as changing an incandescent light bulb? Is it really viable? I think it is. Here's why...

  • There are 110 million households in the United States.
  • The average home has between 50 and 100 light sockets.

My own home isn't particularly large, but we have a few other buildings, in addition to the main house. I asked my son to do an inventory and he determined we have 206 sockets. Yikes.

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Obviously, we don't use all 206 outlets. But regardless, it's a terrible waste of energy to use ordinary incandescent light bulbs. So about a year ago, I started to replace my used bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs - or CFLs for short.

CFLs (also known as "swirl bulbs") emit the same amount of light as incandescents, but use 75% to 80% less energy.

If each American home changed just one 60-watt incandescent bulb to a CFL, the resulting energy savings would be enough to power a city of 1.5 million people. Or all the homes in Delaware and Rhode Island.

To put it another way, changing one 60-watt bulb is the equivalent of taking 1.3 million cars off the roads. It's the law of large numbers in action.

And America's largest retailer is playing an active role...

Screw in a Compact Fluorescent Bulb... And Get a 2,567% Return on Your Investment

Wal-Mart (NYSE: WMT) operates 3,200 stores, each one boasting a huge array of ceiling fan displays. The company has ditched the incandescent bulbs in all of them in favor of CFLs. Annual energy savings? $6 million.

Now before I get e-mails about the hazards of all the mercury inside the CFL bulbs, it's actually a miniscule amount. And it's expected to decline by about 80% over the next year or two. Properly disposing of them is a small price to pay for the energy savings gained.

The truth is, CFLs are...

  • More Efficient: In a CFL, you get 60 lumens (a measure of light output) per watt of power. In an incandescent, you only get 15. Therefore, CFLs are four times more efficient than Edison's baby.
  • More Cost-Effective: Most CFLs burn for around 8,000 to 12,000 hours. So although you'll spend around $1.43 per 60-watt equivalent CFL bulb (based on an eight-pack of GE 13-watt Energy Smart bulbs), you save as much as $38 in electricity costs over the life of the bulb.

That's an approximate 2,657% return on your investment. At my house, I stand to save over $7,533.42.

What's your number?

There aren't many energy investments that pay you back in as little as five months. But CFLs do - in the form of energy savings. The time has come for CFLs - and switching to them is a great idea.

Good investing,

David Fessler

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