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Let There Be (Incandescent) Light: A Different View

An editiorial in today's Washington Post, Let There Be (Incandescent) Light, declared, "Banning traditional light bulbs as used in private homes seems an effort in the name of environmental protection that has very little payoff."  Earlier, the author, David Henderson, a teacher of environmental ethics in the philosophy and religion department at Western Carolina University, stated and asked, "Light bulbs are a poor choice for regulation. Is there an overriding reason to regulate how Americans light their homes?" 

I have a different view.  There is a larger payoff than Henderson recognizes.  First, environmental concerns -- reducing power plant emissions of carbon dioxide and other gases -- is not the only benefit gained from energy conservation standards.  They are not even the primary benefit recognized by the Energy Policy and Conservation Act, which is the statute that regulates lighting efficiency.  Economic benefits to utilities who are able to avoid capital costs and ordinary expenditures because of reduced electricity consumption from more efficient lighting can be substantial.  Lower utility bills to consumers and businesses can be substantial as well; the relative total cost to the consumer of owning and operating a more energy efficient compact fluroescent lamp over its life versus a traditional incandescent lamp favor the compact fluorescent lamp.  Yes, the CFL is different from incandescent lamps: acquisition costs are higher, there are differences in the color of the light, and generally they have not been dimmable, but product innovation is underway and will continue and prices have been coming down significantly as production and sales volume have increased.  Consumers have many more choices today with CFLs than they did just a couple of years ago, and consumers should take a look at the variety and quality of some of the CFLs now on the market, and remember that a higher price may represent additional value in the product. 

The cost of shifting production away from incandescent lamps to other lighting products is borne largely by the lamp manufacturers and the towns with factories that will no longer be manufacturing incandescent lamps.  One of those costs is research and development, but that may generate benefits down the road from innovative lighting products that consumers find even greater value in.  Lamp manufacturers are already engaged in that race.

The public can thank our organization, NEMA, for that.  Initial proposals in States and to Congress here in the U.S. were similar to the incandescent product ban that recently went into effect in Europe.  The US Congress, encouraged by NEMA and its lamp manufacturer members, took a different approach:  regulate the performance of the lamp; do not specify which products or technologies manufacturers can make and sell and consumers can buy.  Banning the "traditional" light bulb --- the "A" line incandescent lamp that is still available on the U.S. market today but will be phased out beginning in 2012 --- merely banned an inefficient lamp, which will mean significant economic benefits to electric utilities and utility customers, allow consumers to spend their money on other things beside electricity, and encourage the development of innovative lighting products and possibly more efficient incandescent lamps.  So let there be light --- incandescent light, fluorescent light, and light emitting diodes --- and may the best products win. 

And, oh by the way, the regulation of lamp efficiency will reduce the output of carbon dioxide from coal-fired power plants if consumers and businesses will buy and use more energy efficient lamps.  Henderson suggests banning coal-fired power plants.  I am not sure that he meant that, because it is not practical.  But he is right if he meant that we need to start reducing our dependency on coal-fired power plants as a percentage source of electricity output.  With the recent Stimulus legislation and pending "clean energy" legislation, Congress is legislating to increase the share of renewable sources of electricity.  But this will make only a dent.  America needs to start increasing the share of that other source of "clean energy" --- nuclear power, which represents only 20% of our current power sources for electricity. That's material for another blog.   

Posted 10-02-2009 4:27 PM by Silcox, Clark


peter in dublin wrote re: Let There Be (Incandescent) Light: A Different View
on 10-06-2009 2:06 PM

Setting efficiency standards is in effect banning products not meeting those standards.

Unfortunately inefficient products - or product versions - have many advantages too, or they would not exist on the market.

Performance, appearance, construction as well as cost and indeed savings can be affected by imposing efficiency regulations onwards

While I broadly agree with David Henderson,

The ban is wrong not just because CFLs aren't popular:

it is wrong in itself,

also for the energy and emissions arguments behind it.

Americans (like Europeans) choose to buy ordinary light bulbs around 8 to 9 times out of 10 (light industry data 2007-8)

Banning what people want gives the supposed savings - no point in banning an impopular product!

If new LED lights - or improved incandescents  etc - are good,

people will buy them - no need to ban ordinary light bulbs (little point).

If they are not good, people will not buy them - no need to ban ordinary light bulbs (no point).

The arrival of the transistor didn’t mean that more energy using radio valves/tubes were banned… they were bought less anyway.

The need to save energy?

Advice is good and welcome, but bans are another matter...

ordinary citizens -not politicians – pay for energy, its production, and how they wish to use it.

There is no energy shortage - on the contrary, more and more renewable sources are being developed -

and if there was an energy shortage of the finite oil-coal-gas fuels,


1 renewable energy becomes more attractive price-wise

2 the fuel price rise would lead to more demand for efficient products – no need to legislate for it.

Supposed savings don’t hold up anyway,

for many reasons: onwards

= comparative brightness, lifespans, power factors, lifecycles etc with referenced research

About electricity bills:

If electricity use does fall, power companies have to put up prices to cover their overheads, maintenance costs, wage bills etc (using less fuel doesn't compensate much in overall costs).

As with other consumption, those who use less tend to pay more per unit used (and heavy users get discounts).

Power companies may like increased use of CFLs to maximize customers per utility used, but it doesn't necessarily work out that much greater in savings for customers.

Also see about rebound effects (what effectively is cheaper energy use can increase usage etc, )


Does a light bulb give out any gases?

Power stations might not either:

Why should emission-free households be denied the use of lighting they obviously want to use?

Low emission households already dominate some regions, and will increase everywhere, since emissions will be reduced anyway through the planned use of coal/gas processing technology and/or energy substitution.

Direct ways to deal with emissions,

with a focus on transport and electricity:

reorganizing electricity generation and distribution

The Taxation alternative

A ban on light bulbs is extraordinary, in being on a product safe to use.

We are not talking about banning lead paint here.

This is simply a ban to (supposedly) <b>reduce electricity consumption</b>.

For those who favour bans, taxation to reduce any such consumption would therefore make more sense,

also as governments can use the income to reduce emissions (home insulation schemes, renewable projects etc) more than any remaining product use causes such problems.

A few dollars/euros/pounds tax that reduces the current sales (EU like the USA 2 billion sales per annum, UK 250-300 million pa)

raises future billions, and would retain consumer choice.

It could also be revenue neutral, lowering any sales tax on efficient products.

When sufficent low emission electricity delivery is in place, the ban can be lifted

Taxation is itself unjustified, it is simply a better alternative for all concerned than bans.

bodog wrote re: Let There Be (Incandescent) Light: A Different View
on 08-23-2011 8:20 AM

Thanks to all who responded, o kindly got me through recovering the database late at night. The guys have always been very knowledgeable and very helpful.

domain hosting wrote re: Let There Be (Incandescent) Light: A Different View
on 03-06-2012 2:07 AM

Thanks for having what you've got in here. Impressive posts indeed.

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