Saturday, March 24, 2007

Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) use much less energy than incandescent bulbs to make a similar amount of light. These bulbs are touted as an easy way to reduce energy consumption and quickly put a dent in greenhouse gas emissions. They have some well known problems: they warm up slowly, give lower quality light, are more expensive, and contain mercury. None of these are show stoppers. The latest bulbs warm up in seconds and they are getting cheaper. They also last longer. Recycling bulbs properly (mostly) mitigates the dangers of the mercury. These are all reasonable sacrifices for saving the planet.

Many governments are considering laws to ban incandescent bulbs. This is just plain ridiculous. While well intentioned, this is not the way to go about solving our problems. Even if CFLs were the perfect replacement for incandescents, it would be a questionable move. However the issue is not that clear cut. When you look at it more closely.

First, the higher cost corresponds to the increased resources and energy required to make these bulbs. Second, people are not recycling these bulbs consistently. I just recently found out that I needed to. (Of course, none have burnt out since then). Third, these bulbs are more sensitive to conditions and are not well suited to some uses (outdoor, refrigerators, ...). Again, I'm not sure these reasons are show stoppers either, but they certainly suggest that an outright ban on incandescents might be unwise.

The argument is also made that CFL bulbs must be left on continuously to achieve the lifetimes touted by manufacturers. I'm not sure I buy this for two reasons. First, I have seen no data and the argument seems to only appear when people are making the case for keeping incandescents. Second, I'd bet incandescents have the same problem.

Don't get me wrong. I think incandescent bulbs should get phased out. However, I think in the long term, LEDs will provide the answer. Even more efficient and longer lasting than CFLs, they also give a better quality of light. I want to build one of these.

For now, though, I don't have an answer. I'll try to do some research on CFLs before we move into the new place. I don't want to go buy a house full of CFLs to find out I wasted my money, but I don't want to waste energy on incandescents because I bought into the establishment FUD. I'll look into it and post more later.

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