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Phasing Out The Inefficient Incandescent Lightbulb


Posted: November 05, 2018 by Teri Krueger

As the U.S. phases out incandescent light bulbs, we look back at the light of our lives, and look forward to new generations of CFLs and LEDs.

We started bidding goodbye to Edison’s classic in 2012. Congress directed the Department of Energy (DOE) to develop revised standards to take effect in 2020, including a backstop requiring that light bulbs achieve at least 45 lumens (a measure of brightness) per watt. DOE recently stated that this backstop will go into effect. Halogen incandescent light bulbs will probably not meet the backstop. DOE also proposed stronger efficiency levels for CFLs and LEDs, which current CFLs cannot meet. General Electric has already announced that they will no longer produce CFLs, and one large retailer, Ikea, has already switched to LEDs only.

DOE also proposed stronger efficiency levels for CFLs and LEDs, which current CFLs cannot meet. General Electric has already announced that they will no longer produce CFLs, and one large retailer, Ikea, has already switched to LEDs only.

LEDs—the light bulb of choice You don’t have to rush out and replace your working light bulbs, but when they burn out, LEDs are an excellent choice for replacements. LEDs provide instant, high-quality light similar to incandescent light bulbs but are about 4 times more efficient and last up to 12 times longer—and LED prices are dropping as consumers purchase the efficient bulbs in increasing numbers.

Consumers will save money A typical household replacing inefficient bulbs with those meeting the proposed standards will save about $90 annually on its electric bill, which is like getting nearly a month of free electricity every year. Plus, LEDs can last a decade or two, saving consumers the cost and trouble of purchasing new bulbs every year. Standards will reduce energy waste Through 2030, energy efficiency standards for light bulbs will cumulatively save 1.5 trillion kilowatt hours of energy, or more than enough to meet the electricity needs of every US home for one year and will reduce CO2 emissions by 700 million metric tons, equivalent to taking nearly 150 million cars off the road for a year. 

As a tribute to the former light of our lives, we’ve pulled together a little quiz on the old bulbs. It’s our way of saying farewell, old friend: It’s been great to glow you.

Q. Who invented the incandescent light bulb?

A. Likely, you’ll guess Thomas Alva Edison. But German watchmaker Henricg Globel was the inventor of the first bulb in 1854. Edison, in 1879, was the first to place a carbon filament in an oxygen-less bulb that burned for 40 hours.

Q. How many light bulb facts can we squeeze into one sentence?

A. Let’s see…

Edison tested more than 1,600 materials to find the right filament, including coconut fiber, fishing line, and hair from a friend’s beard, finally finding success with carbonized bamboo that burned for 14.5 hours and eventually evolved to the incandescent bulb that today burns 1,000 hours, accounting for 10% to 20% of a home owner’s total energy bill, which is one reason the U.S. government in 2007 decided to ban incandescent bulbs in 2014.

That was 10. And we’re just getting started.

Q. How many light bulb jokes does it take…?

A. Incandescent light bulb jokes became popular in the 1960s as a way to poke fun at cultures, beliefs, and occupations. The original seems to be:

Q.  How many (insert group to stereotype) does it take to change a light bulb?

A. Ten. One to hold the light bulb, and 9 to turn around the ladder.

Among our favorites:

Q. How many bureaucrats does it take to screw in a light bulb?

A. Two. One to assure everyone that everything possible is being done while the other screws the bulb into the water faucet.

Q. How many therapists does it take to change a light bulb?

A. One. But the light bulb must really want to change.

Q. What’s so great about CFLs?

A. A compact fluorescent light bulb can burn up to 10,000 hours and produces less heat than incandescent light bulbs, making it more efficient. A 13-watt CFL produces the same light as a 60w incandescent bulb. According to Energy Star, each CFL can prevent more than 400 pounds of greenhouse gas emissions over its lifetime.

Q. What’s the lowdown on LEDs?

A. Light-emitting diodes are even more efficient than CLFs and light-years from incandescent bulbs. LEDs use only 2 to 10 watts of electricity and lose only 10% of energy to heat: 90% goes to light. Here’s the kicker: LED light bulbs can burn more than 100,000 hours. 

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