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Article posted Apr 08 2007, 1:39 AM Category: Commentary Source: American Thinker Print

Ban the Bulb? -- "If all 4 billion incandescent sockets were filled with CFLs we'd have nearly 50,000 pounds of mercury spread around every single US household"

By Luminus Maximus

In a few weeks the US Congress is likely to vote to phase out the standard incandescent lightbulb within a decade. The frantic race to see who can best appease the global warming alarmists will claim another victim, the friendly glow of the direct descendant of Thomas Edison's filament-based light bulb.

Why would the humble lightbulb, a staple commodity that has raised the standard of living throughout the world, be in the bullseye? It was the incandescent electric light bulb that abolished the tyranny of the night. Our 19th and 20th century ancestors believed it one of the greatest gifts of civilization because they had directly experienced life before electric lighting changed everything. In 2002, former Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld briefly reminded us of this blessing when he commented on the satellite imagery revealing the nighttime darkness in North Korea, but other than this brief moment, we seem to have forgotten what we owe to Edison's first invention.

Ironically, the lowly lightbulb became one of the icons of the New Deal, forever connected with the Rural Electrification Act of 1936. The REA and the TVA enabled cheap electric power to be available everywhere, even on the remotest farms and ranches. And a substantial part of the American people fell in love with big government because it brought this fruit of civilization, the rollback of the night, to all Americans.

But today, more than anything else, the humble lightbulb is altogether another sort of convenient symbol for big government-a technology dinosaur, perpetrator of evil crimes against the planet. Stopping the wasteful use of kilowatts by American households in the war on greenhouse gases is the new battle cry of the lovers of governmental control over our lives.

There are about 4 billion conventional screw-in light bulb sockets all across America; the vast majority are in homes and apartments. Incandescent light bulbs are in most of these sockets, with some 2 billion or more replaced every year. It is estimated at least $15 billion of electricity is consumed by these inefficient anachronisms, and that by replacing them with more energy efficient types of lightbulbs-primarily post-modern compact fluorescents--that $15 billion could be cut in half.

We are told that as kilowatts could be reduced, we would need fewer nasty coal-fired power generating plants, while winning a major battle against global warming with little pain and even less effort. Everybody wins!

Well, not exactly. Once again, a nice-sounding theory overlooks significant details of the practical outcomes.

Energy conservation lobbyists conveniently overlook the obvious fact that household lightbulbs are primarily used at night-exactly opposite the time of day in which utilities experience peak load demands for daytime heating, air conditioning and commercial lighting. Peak load shedding is what is most necessary for taking coal fired power plants out of commission.

Reducing nighttime lightbulb consumption of kwhs will do almost nothing to shave peak demand. Moreover, with non-peak kwhs reduced at night, utilities will now have fewer revenues on which to earn a return on their invested capital. Utilities must build up their physical plant to meet the peaks, and the capital to finance that equipment has to be paid for 24 hours a day. Thus, utilities will have to raise rates on the remainder of the kwhs we use for everything else, from washing machines to hair dryers to computers.

Household power used by lightbulbs is actually dwarfed these days by major appliances and high tech consumer electronics- such as wide screen TVs, computers and video games along with internet servers, the biggest energy hogs besides cars and trucks.

And since the new CFLs produce inferior light compared to incandescents, we'll need more of them to read, shave, comb our hair and brush our teeth. Assuming literacy and personal hygiene are still hallmarks of civilized life after the global warming alarmists are done with their crusade to rid us of the blessings of the evil civilization that rapes Mother Gaia.

By banning the incandescent lightbulb Congress will forcibly remove a staple commodity from the marketplace, replacing it with products that are far more expensive, less reliable and more hazardous, notably the much ballyhooed compact fluorescent lightbulb (CFL).

CFL lightbulbs have been around for well over a decade. Only recently have they come in enough varieties and flavors to capture about 10% of the available sockets. But they are still at least 5 times more expensive than regular incandescents, which if replaced in their entirety would cost consumers an extra $4 to 5 billion at the cash register. No doubt millions of Americans will enthusiastically embrace this new technology and be willing to pay extra to get it.

But millions more will not fare so well. This ban will be a tax on poor people and the silent majority-retirees on fixed incomes, single working parents, low wage earners working double shifts or two jobs along with the average Joes and Marys who live each week paycheck-to-paycheck. They don't have cable TV to watch the Home and Garden channel, and can't afford to replace their functional if drab table lamp fixtures, much less employ a green ideology-toting residential lighting designer.

For these Americans, burdens come in large packages. Relief arrives less often, and then in small envelopes, such as reduced inflationary pressures on staple commodities like lightbulbs and all the necessities of life purchased at low prices from Wal-Mart. Of course Wal-Mart is yet another enemy of the trendy affluent class that wants to dictate how the rest of us lead our lives.

And guess where the extra purchase prices for these CFLs will wind up? In the pockets of Chinese manufacturers, because not a single CFL is produced in the US.

And it gets worse. As Chinese manufacturers add enough manufacturing capacity to produce ten times as many CFLs , they will need several new coal-fired power plants to run the new factories. This comes on top of the already breathtaking pace today of construction in coal fired electric power plants in China - at a clip of one new plant every week. Don't even think about asking about what kind of pollution control will be operating on those Chinese plants.

A tax on poor people in the US so the Chinese can add more coal fired power plants. Now there's a bright idea.

There's even more to this story: one more dirty little secret that the greens won't tell you about.

CFLs contain mercury. You didn't know that? Just a drop you say? How about up to 5 milligrams per lightbulb. If all 4 billion incandescent sockets were filled with CFLs we'd have 20 billion milligrams of mercury spread around every single US household. By the way, 20 billion milligrams is nearly 50,000 pounds.

That 50,000 pounds of mercury amongst 300 million people, if indiscriminately thrown away, will eventually find its way to your favorite landfill and public drinking water supply. Knock over a table lamp and shatter a CFL in your house, and you have a toxic waste situation on your hands right in the living room, bedroom or dining room.

On the other hand, at least half of all mercury emissions from coal fired power plants currently is captured by scrubbers, and clean coal technologies promise to eliminate 2/3rds of what remains. Not so for CFLs-- which can't operate without mercury.

So there you have it. Congress will soon enact legislation to impose a tax on poor people that will directly pass to Chinese companies, contribute to lower literacy and less personal hygiene while making industrial policy that will increase greenhouse gas emissions worldwide and spread a hazardous heavy metal into the environment.

Ban the bulb is a no-brainer , only this time the empty-headed variety.

Luminus Maximus is the pen name of a longtime observer of the industry

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Comments 1 - 19 of 19 Add Comment Page 1 of 1

Posted: Apr 08 2007, 5:10 AM

I think that the proper disposal of these bulbs just like the fluorescent tubes we already have contaminating the ground with poisonous phosphorus should become a priority. I think the built in obsolescence of the incandescence and the power wasting angle is good reason to replace these antiquated bulbs. But I agree mercury isn't the answer. The filamnets in bulbs can be made to last many times longer but like everything else in this country the built in obsolesence keeps people coming back to buy more bulbs. I think this country needs to reexamine it's policy of making things so they can be replaced. If it doesn't break they can't sell you a new one.

Posted: Apr 08 2007, 12:20 PM

63209 I think the only incentive against CFLs would be dependency on China, both for trade goods and pollution control. If these were produced in the U.S. for the same price, the toll would inevitably drop as production increased to meet demand.


Posted: Apr 08 2007, 2:24 PM

70160 The Headline "50,000 pounds of mercury spread around every single US household" is inaccurate

there would not be 50,000 pounds of mercury in every single household.

CFL do not produce inferior light

The cost, of the bulb, does not include lifetime operating costs, so the lifecycle cost are not more than incandecents.

The Total mercury question is a valid question to debate. From what I understand, you still get less total mercury from CFL, if you are using coal to power conventional lamps.

LED's are the real answer.

Posted: Apr 08 2007, 4:38 PM

6959 Yes, the title is completely incorrect and should have been a clue to the insane logic of the rest of the article.

I have used CFL's for over a year now and I agree with another poster by saying that they do not produce inferior light.

They will shave some peak usage and more importantly they represent a longing for efficiency which will in the end help the environment.

However, the government should not have the right to ban a product sheerly on energy usage.

Posted: Apr 08 2007, 5:45 PM

70178 CFLs do produce inferior light. They flicker and provide a broken spectrum of light. The output in lumens decays over time as well.

LEDs are definitely the answer, but people need to act right now.

Wal-mart is already pushing CFL, they have already made huge orders, and in parts of the country laws are being passed (meaning they are already fueling the growth of the flawed tech.)


Posted: Apr 08 2007, 7:48 PM

The title says 50,000 pounds SPREAD around each household in other words 50k total and then distributed or divided among all the households which comes out to milligrams per house but even a milligram can kill you or poison you severely.

Posted: Apr 08 2007, 10:14 PM

7089 The coal to light inandescent bulbs emits more mercury, and the bulb's mercury can b recycled.

Posted: Apr 09 2007, 3:37 PM

6435 The off-peak power saved can be spent to charge up plug-in hybrids...
Biloxi Butler

Posted: Apr 10 2007, 10:17 AM

76105 The focus needs to be on free trade:

"...Senator Aldrich’s leadership in Congress was not directed toward providing credit constructively to where the economy needed it most. No, the most powerful politician in Washington D.C. chose to achieve general soundness in the banking system, at the expense of fair competition. This action stopped the full developmental potential of the U.S. economy, in 1908."

Aldrich-Veerland Currency Act of 1908 killed the entrepreneur spirit in the US - a repeat of what the politicians are supporting with the "energy of light" now in 2007. It's about globalization, not environmentalism and those who have controlled the markets, especially in America, are going crazy in trying to figure out how to maintain the control held for no less than 100 years.

China is demanding the power they control and it's all about the money situation in which the US finds itself - Asian banks control more of the American economy at this time than the FED does.

Demand Congress create sovereign banks to provide the US with choices of currencies to compete in the global market, which is what has been done to the American population without any oversight by those who call themselves citizens of the Constitution of the USA.

Freedom in the market, known as open trade against all currencies, can stop this insanity, finally.
K Jones

Posted: Apr 10 2007, 3:27 PM

66233 I've thought for a long time that the downside of CF bulbs, namely the toxicity of the mercury they contain, plus that of some phosphors, has been under-addressed. I've seen little or no mention of the fact that each bulb contains an electronics package that will be discarded, with all the problems attending the recycle of materieals found in any type of electronic equipment.

It's well to consider that in winter the heat generated by incandescent lamps is not actually wasted, but contributes to the warming of the dwelling. This, of course, is not desirable in the summer.

Personally, I find most of the CFs are bright enough, but I've yet to see any that render colors as well as an incandescent bulb. Generally fluorescents advertised as "full spectrum" are much more expensive than the standard units.

Until these problems and objections are addressed, I believe it's unwise to force consumers to change to CF via the means of legislation.
Lighting Maven

Posted: Apr 10 2007, 7:42 PM

7091 ********************************************

Fluorescent bulbs turn on and off sharply, 60 times per second, kind of like an NTSC television image, or a monitor with its "refresh rate" set at 60Hz.

Do you remember why we needed refresh rates faster than 60Hz ? Because many people, even they can not "see" something flipping on and off 60 times per second, are still affected by the cinemascopic jittering of the light. It's a fact.

A leading cause of headaches at work is too-low refresh rates in monitors and fluorescent lights.

Incandescent bulbs heat up and stay hot, meaning the heat evens out the 60 cycle pulses and continuously emits a steady glow of light. Incandescents cause no headaches; they do not filp on and off; they are more natural and do not play with your mind like the quasi-digital fluorescent bulbs.

Remember this. Incandescents are better for humans.

This whole thing about global warming may be trumped up:

1. it's another cheering cause for the pro-globalists, another reason we all "need" world government.

2. check out the movie / documentary from Finland or Sweden about Al Gore's chart being backwards (the co2 jumps were caused by the warming, not his way around), and __sunspots__ are the real (and much more believable) culprint behind global warming, matching his data exactly.

If you think you're smart, you will have already seen this movie; otherwise, you are probably as misinformed as your stupid neighbor. Remember that.
A concerned student

Posted: May 30 2007, 9:49 PM

7545 Coal power plants account for 32% of mercury emissions in the US ( I researched this thoroughly for a school project and found that switching all of the lights in our house to CFLs would over the life span of a CFL, save 280 mg of mercury from going into the atmosphere, 3.5 kg CO2eq from being emitted daily, and-most importantly to some people- we would save $327.32 over the CFL's life. This article is a misleading representation of a technology that has wonderful environmental and economic impacts. For unbialsed information, I suggest the following site:

Posted: Jun 02 2007, 8:48 AM

69223 Modern fluorescent fixtures DO NOT cycle at 60 times per second. That may have been true for the old magnetic ballasts, but modern electronic ballasts usually cycle between 2,000 to 20,000 times per second.

Posted: Aug 06 2007, 10:20 PM

209197 Simply turning off lights when not in use would produce the largest savings in all regards!

Posted: Aug 09 2007, 11:00 AM

I don't like bright bulbs, so I only use 20 and 40 watt conventional bulbs - when I'm not using candles or sunshine. All my food prep is over before sundown. Happ y to read by candlelight.
Will the government take that into consideration?

Also, all this 'extra bright' lighting in hallways etc to save us from fear of muggers isn't nice...obviously why they keep muggers away. But if we ban muggers and lights, we could save there.

I'm very sensitive to artificial light and vapours - I knew they were all bad before I read anything. I'll have to make my own lightbulbs, 'cos I hate the light of cfc's and flourescents. They have to be guarded by law, because they are otherwise known to cause headaches, at an unacceptable level. But the bad effect of the cycling light is still there. Very unhealthy - I shun them, and quit college because of that, finishing my degree by post and meeting my tutors in the park.

I am now 79 years old, but people say I look about thirtyish, some even 28! I put it down to my lifestyle. I did however, allow myself an LCD macintosh computer, and tests have shown me its fine, apart from physically slumping over it.

My own solution is ridiculous: go to bed early, unless you're having fun by the campfire, and get up early. So you can all laugh, with your usefool technology.

Posted: Jan 24 2009, 1:10 AM

24159 I don't care about the bulbs, I know that CFLs are better. But this is a direct attack on our right to choose the way we live. The ones who lose are us. I'd rather be poor and have to put up with global warming but be free to choose what I want, rather than a politician choosing things for me.

Posted: Sep 08 2009, 2:22 AM

76191 The efficiency of CFL should be called into question because it is NOT a simple equation, as everyone would just love to believe in their simple, idealized world.

In reality, CFLs aren't nearly as energy efficient as all the industry / political propaganda would have you believe. And there is no disputing the fact that CFLs simply do not produce the same quality light as incandescent. Some points to consider, and I recommend you do your own research on these topics:

1. CFLs take a lot more energy to manufacture compared to incandescent (CFLs contain complex electronic ballast circuits, incandescent bulbs contain nothing but a little filament). That extra embodied energy offsets a large part of the energy saved over the life of the bulb, and is reflected in the high price you pay up front.

2. CFLs have very poor Power Factor (check out wikipedia for the nitty-gritty) - high harmonic content and high "apparent power", while incandescent bulbs have perfect PF and zero harmonics... these are technical terms which have to do with how the bulb draws power from the line. Poor PF results in high energy losses on the transmission lines which carry power from the generating plant to your house, and unfortunately, household power meters do not measure either harmonic content or apparent power. Because the apparent power is not counted at the meter, people will see the kWh on their monthly bill go down, and mistakenly believe their energy consumption has gone down. Instead, the utility will have to charge you a higher rate to recoup the losses of carrying the apparent power and harmonic frequencies. Don't be deceived by this subtle problem.

3. CFLs can take several minutes to come up to full brightness, but the energy efficiency claims for are measured on a fully warmed-up bulb. The efficiency during warm-up is no better than incandescent, so for bulbs which are not left on continuously (most bulbs) there is less energy saved than the simplistic arithmetic indicates.

4. Lifespan claims for CFLs are exaggerated, and again based on a bulb which is never switched on and off. When switched on and off like most household bulbs, CFLs will last far less than the advertised life. I've personally had CFLs last less than a year, with very typical use - worse even than the incandescent that was replaced.

5. CFLs do not produce full spectrum light. For anyone who is an artist, or cares about viewing art, the color phenomenon known as metamerism (also see wikipedia) will change the apparent color of objects under the light, which is why museums and art galleries never, ever, use fluorescent light because it can upset the color balance of what you're viewing under that light. Incandescent is the only source of artificial light which does not suffer metamerism, and there are thus applications where incandescent can not be replaced with an equivalent light source.

6. CFLs flicker. They do not produce continuous light output, while incandescent lights do. This can cause eye strain and headaches for some people, more subtle effects such as mood changes for others.

7. CFLs contain highly toxic mercury. This is not only a manufacturing and disposal nightmare, but an unprecedented household danger. Lead paint was banned for a reason, but this is in my opinion a far far bigger danger, especially to children.

My view, as an electrical engineer with a background in art and color science, and also a firm supporter of environmental action to prevent global warming, is that CFLs do not live up to the hype. By the time you look at the whole picture, from raw materials in the factory, the life of the bulb, to the end-of-life disposal situation, I firmly believe CFLs do not deliver any significant energy savings vs. incandescent. In return for feeding a multi-billion dollar new industry, and making a few politicians look good, we will suffer poor quality light and introduce a terrible health hazard into every home. Mercury vapor in the smallest amounts can be inhaled and cause severe neurological developmental impairment for kids.

Finally, banning a specific technology is not the way to legislate a better environment. Set an efficiency target if you must, but make it technology-agnostic and allow the market to find the answer. There are ways to make incandescent even more efficient (MR Halogen bulbs are very very efficient). New Zealand has wisely repealed their incandescent ban. I hope the EU and USA follow suit, and let reason prevail over this eco-fashion-of-the-day abomination.

Frankly, an energy tax would be far more effective than this bulb-banning smokescreen, and would incentivize efficiency equitably across all energy consumers (*cough*industry*cough*). Household light bulbs are just a drop in the ocean of energy we use, and there are way bigger gains to find elsewhere. Household appliances (refrigerators especially), air conditioning (and, by extension, building insulation and design), and heavy industry all vastly outweigh the light bulb. We should not risk being poisoned in our homes for the sake of a 0.1% reduction in the nation's energy use.

If you are a parent and have any concern for the health and safety of your children, I recommend you do yourself a favor and boycott CFLs.

If you are an environmentalist, and really want to do the best thing for the environment, then do all of the difficult math for a complete, real-world use scenario, including all of the real energy loss factors, production, and disposal energy used. I bet you'll find, as I did, that it's no better than incandescent. I recommend you do Mother Earth a favor, and boycott the use of mercury in CFLs.

Get the facts and think for yourselves people!!!

Posted: Sep 08 2009, 2:30 AM

76191 Minor correction: the high-efficiency halogen incandescent lamps are "HIR Halogen", not "MR Halogen"

Posted: Oct 04 2009, 12:09 AM

17379 anonymous 76.191.XXX.XXX your points 1-3 are ridiculous.

1) Manufacturing costs too high? The manuafcturing costs are negligible to the energy savings of a CFL bulb. That's why in the above article we'd save $7 billion a year from buying $5 billion in CFL bulbs. So in less than a year you already have paid off your investment -- provided the CFL bulbs last that long, which they should under most uses. From what I've read the extra energy for producing a CFL bulb is redeemed after about 2-3 weeks of use.

2) Power factor not being measured by utility meters? If you've noticed just about everything in your house has some reactive component except for that beloved incandescent bulb -- things with motors like refrigerator, dishwasher, HVAC system, etc., and even your computer. Buy a Kill-A-Watt meter and you can see a device's power factor. So it makes little sense to mention the reactive power of CFLs in your house as though they are somethow going to through off your entire PF profile. Utility companies only do that if you're some medium-scale manufacturing company with inductive motors whizzing about all day long.

3) It takes my 40W CFL bulb in this room about 15 seconds to fully brighten, so yeah, if you turn it on for 10 seconds, then turn it off and let it cool for a few minutes and repeat this process you might just make this CFL bulb less efficient than an incandecent bulb. Otherwise if you use lights like normal people, the warm-up inefficiencies are negligible.

In a few years, buy an LED bulb if you don't like mercury for your kids. I'm glad the nation taking steps in the direction of saving energy because incandescents are ridiculously inefficient. The article is right, we won't solve peak power but you will solve mining coal, transporting coal, and burning coal for inefficient bulbs at night. If the economic case wasn't there, then office buldings would be full of incandescent bulbs not flourescents.

Remember this is just a first step to doing something reasonable with our energy policy, and remember this was signed into law by presient Bush.
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