Thinking Tech

Incandescent bulb efficiency improves, but falls short of CFLs, LEDs

Posting in Energy

With new conservation standards set to take effect in 2012 and President Obama announcing last week he wants to ratchet that up further, I thought we ...

With new conservation standards set to take effect in 2012 and President Obama announcing last week he wants to ratchet that up further, I thought we are seeing the last of watt-guzzling incandescent light bulbs.

Apparently, lighting giant Philips has other ideas. It's new Halogena Energy Savers incandescent bulbs promise an average energy savings of 30%, last up to two years and "contain no mercury." In short, its 40 and 70 watt bulbs replace 60 and traditional 100 watt bulbs (technically, Philips claims a savings of 22-47 percent).

While the savings is substantially less than compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) and LEDs both which cut electricity consumption by 80% or more over incandescents, they are safer. Breaking a CFL could cost you thousands to clean up the mercury and generate angst over toxicity in the home.

We have CFLs in our home and handle them with the utmost care. We remove them and re-install incandescent bulbs when we rent out a second home. Beyond the Brandy Bridges story two years ago, I haven't heard much about CFLs breaking and the DOE now seems to bless cleaning them up yourself as long as you follow its disposal instructions. End of life disposal remains an issue and you just know many make their way into land fills and incinerators.

Halogena (middle) versus CFLs and traditional bulbs

In my research, LED lighting offers the best alternative to CFLs except for the expense. They generally cost more than $20 and rocket up from there depending on the application. One Evolux S bulb pumps out 900 lumens at 13 watts, but starts at about $70 (shop around online for sure....differences in price can be substantial).

The bulb is billed as a 100-watt bulb replacement, but only produces just over half as many lumens as a traditional incandescent, but its makers says it will last for up to 50,000 hours which for me in my late fifties feels like forever.

As for Philips' Halogena line of incandescent bulbs, I don't see the appeal unless you can't stand the light produced by CFLs and LEDs which can be starkly white. Yes, they dim while CFLs and LEDs generally don't and are mercury-less.  They cost about $5-$10 and at the moment are available only from Amazon.com and Home Depot.

[Last Sunday's New York Times does a good job of explaining how Halogena recaptures heat given off by traditional incandescents and coverts it back to light.]

I don't notice the difference in CFL light and nor does my wife who originally objected to losing the soft light of incandescents when we started a mass bulb replacement two years ago.  Being something of a miser, the economics of CFLs (and eventually LEDs) to me are a no-brainer. My electric bill dropped $30 a month using CFLs which easily paid for themselves in the first year - as long as I don't break one. Going green feels good, too.

And if you can believe it, President Obama last week actually held a press conference on light bulbs. He said lighting consumes 7 per cent of all our electricity or the output of 14 coal fired plants. Energy efficient bulbs could save consumers $4 billion a year, he said. Some $346 million of the stimulus money is earmarked for energy efficiency in the home.

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John Dodge

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor John Dodge has written for the Wall Street Journal, Boston Globe, PC Week (now eWeek), EDN, Design News, Electronic Business, Bio-IT World, Health-IT World, Lowell Sun, Haverhill Gazette and Newburyport Daily News. He is based in Massachusetts. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure