It’s a comedic mainstay: “How many (blanks) does it take to change a light bulb.”
Lately, it seems as if “congressmen” is the most appropriate option to fill in that blank. As you may or may not know, in the past week, members of the House of Representatives are posed to debate—and maybe even vote—on repealing the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (EISA).
At issue is the Act’s Energy Efficiency and Equipment Standards provision, which calls for, amongst other things, the adoption of new efficiency standards for lighting. While the Act does not specifically mandate compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) over traditional incandescent bulbs, the requirement that new bulbs provide the same amount of brightness but increase efficiency to 25% has lead many opponents to contend that the Act results in a de facto mandate of CFLs and an eventual fadeout of incandescent light bulbs.
By now, most of us are aware of the benefits associated with switching to energy efficient lighting. In fact, the DOE estimates that “If every American home replaced just one light with a light that’s earned the ENERGY STAR, we would save enough energy to light three million homes for a year, save about $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent 9 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per year, equivalent to those from about 800,000 cars.”
And in a blog published on Energy.gov, Energy Secretary Steven Chu reiterates the benefits of switching to efficient lighting, saying, “These improvements happened because the government set energy saving standards that drove a wave of industry innovation. Today’s refrigerators are larger than those from the 1970s, but cost half as much and consume only one quarter as much energy.” He wraps up by saying, “The standards help us meet America’s energy needs, while also saving people money. It’s a win-win approach that just makes sense.”
Chu also announced the creation of a new website designed to give consumers all the facts about the standards and the lighting options available to them. According to Chu, “The website explains what’s covered by the law and what isn’t. It also has useful information about energy-saving incandescent, CFL and LED bulbs—light bulbs that meet the new standards and save consumers money.”
On the one hand, while it seems pretty clear that an increase in efficiency trumps other concerns, the reality is that there are some valid points can be made in favor of the need for additional study on the health, safety, and viability of CFLS. Some issues to consider:
• CFLs currently cost $5–11 per bulb, compared to about 99 cents per incandescent bulb. (Although an extended lifespan and an increase in efficiency should mitigate those costs over the life of the bulb.)
• The life-cycle claims of CFLs have been questioned because although CFLs have been rated with a lifespan of between 6,000 and 15,000 hours—versus the 750-hour lifespan of traditional light bulbs—some of the initial CFL offerings fell well below projections, causing consternation and concern amongst early adopters.
• CFLs must be handled with more care—Energy Star suggests that fluorescent lamps be turned off if a room will be unoccupied for more than 15 minutes.
• The quality of light produced by CFLs can fall short of traditional lighting. Overall, CFLs produce less light as they grow older and, in fact, experience exponential light output decay (faster losses the longer the light bulb is used) and take longer to reach full power than traditional bulbs.
• Additional environmental concerns include the possibility of increased ultraviolet exposure, mercury poisoning, and the unintended consequences associated with the possibility of an increases in CO2 emissions in places like Quebec and British Columbia, where central heating provided by natural gas (provided by hydroelectric or nuclear power) results in a reduction of the release of GHGs from natural gas.
So what do you think? Are the performance standards for light bulbs, like those included in the EISA, really tantamount to a “ban” on incandescent bulbs (as some congressmen are alleging), or are they merely suggestions that have been embraced by the government and the business community because of the benefits associated with a 25% (or more) increase in lighting efficiency? Would a federal efficiency tax (which would assign tax rates based on the efficiency of a product), rather than a set of performance standards limitations, be a more effective way to encourage adoption of CFLs, LEDs, and other efficient lighting options? And how much weight should we assign to the health and environmental concerns associated with CFLs?