Lights Out for the Incandescent Light Bulb

By: Dave Hartman

Thomas Edison demonstrated the first incandescent light bulb on New Year’s Eve 1879 [1], heralding a new age of productivity and prosperity. Over a hundred years later, the incandescent technology has dimmed from favor. In 2007, the Energy Independence and Security Act called for light bulbs to become 25 to 30 percent more efficient between 2012 and 2014 and up to 70% more efficient by 2020. [2] California has blazed the trail by banning all stores from restocking 100-watt incandescent bulbs. [1]

So what is taking its place? Light Emitting Diodes (LEDs) and Compact Fluorescent (CFLs) are two dominant technologies. LEDs are super efficient; however, they can be expensive and are prone to burning out quickly. Companies such as Lighting Sciences Group Corp. and Osram Sylvania have managed to overcome the microchip overheating problem and are due to reveal 100-watt equivalent prototypes in the near future. [1] CFLs are also more expensive than their incandescent cousins, but are extremely reliable, last an estimated 100 times longer and consume 85% less electricity, making them much less expensive over the life of the bulb. The downside is they contain a small amount of toxic mercury vapor, which can be released when they’re broken. They also need to be disposed of properly instead of just being thrown out. Another common complaint about CFLs is that they’re ugly; however, many manufacturers have overcome this by encasing the entire bulb in a round bulb-like enclosure.

As price comes down, and efficiency and reliability increase on these two technologies, the race between them will prove to be interesting, with the consumer (and their pocketbook) being the winner.

For more information:

Compact Fluorescent – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Compact_fluorescent_lamp

Light Emitting Diode – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/LED

[1] Tri-Country Electric Cooperative, Inc., Member Information Bulletin, June 2011

[2] @tudorvieru on Twitter, “The Age of the Incandescent Light Bulb is Over”, Softpedia.com, January 20, 2011

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