Sunday, February 26, 2012

Life in Post-Lightbulb efficiency standard America

Today for the first time in 2012, I bought a new light bulb. Now, this may not seem significant, but it is the first time I had to select a bulb without the option of the standard 100W incandescent, which are no longer sold because they don't meet the minimum efficiency standards of the 2007 light bulb law. There has been some political posturing about this law and government interference in the free market. There have been some dubious 'facts' and scare tactics in the media as well (see: Right-Wing Media Continue To Mislead On Nonexistent Light Bulb "Ban") so I thought I would relate how it affected my life as a light bulb consumer today.

In this particular case, I was looking for a bulb for my laundry room, which has been lit by two 100W incandescent bulbs in simple 'bare bulb' fixtures on the ceiling. They are controlled by a motion sensor which I installed a few years ago, and which is only compatible with incandescent style bulbs. This limits the 'on time' to only when someone is in the room, and provides hands-free operation which is nice when you are carrying baskets full of clothes. Because of this, CFL bulbs were not an option. I also don't recommend them for applications where they are on only briefly, due to warm up time issues. Basically, you are finished with the laundry task by the time the bulb fully warms up. CFL lifetime is also known to be shortened by repeated on-off cycles. CFL's also contain a tiny bit of mercury which bothers some people, as it can be released if the bulb breaks. It also means you have to recycle CFL bulbs, which means taking them to Home Depot or other retailers that support recycling.

This left LED or halogen. LED bulbs are wonderful devices, I highly recommend them for uses such as recessed lighting in areas like kitchens which are used a lot. However in this case the 'on time' is so brief that an LED would probably take longer than my expected life time to pay back its cost. Also Giant doesn't stock a lot of LED bulbs yet. So I chose a 72W halogen bulb by Sylvania. These are also "Made in USA" according to the package, which appeals to me. Halogens have no mercury or special disposal requirements.

I replaced both bulbs with the 72W bulbs and can't tell any difference in the lighting, although according to the package they produce slightly less light (1490 vs 1690 lumens). The halogen bulbs do cost more than the old style bulbs, $2.50 each vs. $0.50 for the old bulbs. But since they use 28W less power, will they pay back that up front cost? Here are the calculations for total lifetime bulb cost for my laundry room:

First up, incandescent.
Incandescent:  $0.50 cost per bulb with a 750 hr lifetime.
So for 1000 hrs of on-time I need to buy (1000/750)*2 = 2.66 bulbs
Bulb cost: 2.66 * $0.50 = $1.33
Electricity cost: My power costs roughly $0.12 per KWh
Power used over 1000 hr lifetime: 100W * 1000hrs * 2 bulbs = 200,000 watt/hrs = 200KWh
Lifetime power cost: 200 * $0.12 = $24

Total lifetime costs for incandescent bulbs: $1.33 + $24 = $25.33

Now let's see how well the 'more expensive' halogen bulbs do:
Halogen: $2.50 cost per bulb with a 1000 lifetime
So for 1000 hrs of on-time I need to buy (1000/1000)*2 = 2 bulbs
Bulb cost: 2 * $2.50 = $5.00 (uh oh, looks higher)
Electricity cost: As previously stated, $0.12 per KWh
Power used over 1000 hr lifetime: 72W * 1000hrs * 2 bulbs = 144,000 watt/hrs = 144KWh
Lifetime power cost: 144 * $0.12 = $17.28

Total lifetime costs for halogen bulbs: $5.00 + $17.28 = $22.28

So, halogen comes out slightly less ($3.05) in total lifetime costs! Okay, so this is not going to change my life in any appreciable way, but that is kind of the idea behind the law. I get the same light for less money. The real value is considering things like if we replaced all incandescent bulbs the country could save $18 billion per year and reduce power usage by the equivalent of 80 coal plants. I fully expect that by the time these halogen bulbs burn out LED bulbs will be cheap enough to make sense as a replacement.

So don't fret but embrace your new choices in lighting options, and enjoy all the money you'll be saving!


  1. Always nice to save money!
    Interesting the Halogen cost comparison, as you say not much unless electricity supply is expensive,
    and sometimes incandescents are indeed the most useful choice.

    Unfortunate then that those replacement incandescents will be banned too after 2014 on the EISA regulations, 45 lumen per Watt end regulation (they are typically 20-22 lumen per W)

    Besides, there are many reasons savings hardly apply overall anyway ...
    many light bulbs that are rarely used in 40+ lighting point households, and bulbs might also be lost or broken.

    The heat effect of incandescents means that switch to CFLs and LEDs often means extra heating used - as research referenced on

    Also, the so-called "power factor" (not the same as power rating) of ordinary "energy saving" fluorescent bulbs means that they use twice the energy at the power plant than do ordinary incandescent bulbs, compared to what your meter says., with references, including Sylvania/Osram factsheet admission.
    That is not all, since many cheap LEDs for domestic use also have power factor issues.
    Electricity consumers of course have to pay for this "hidden cost" in higher bills.

    With any electricity saving the electricity companies make less money,
    and they simply raise the electricity bills, or receive state subsidies (out of citizens pockets) to compensate, as already seen in several countries and states

    Heads we lose - Tails they win!

    A referenced rundown of the deception used - also by Media Matters that you quote - to justify the ban
    "The Deception behind the Ban" on my Freedom Light Bulb blog.

    1. Peter,
      Thanks for contributing your comment on my recent post about my light bulb buying experience. You make some interesting points, but I think some of your information is in error.

      First you state that EISA requires bulbs to meet a 45 lumen per Watt standard by 2014. This is incorrect. The law clearly states that beginning in 2014 the energy secretary must begin the process of creating updated efficiency standards. The new standards will be created by 2017 and go into effect in 2020. The secretary may recommend a 'phase in' approach after consulting with manufacturers which could effectively delay implementation even further. Only if the secretary fails to act will a 45 lumen/Watt standard take effect in 2020. The only thing that happens in 2014 is that the standard applies to lower lumen bulbs instead of just the old 100W that it does this year. I find it interesting that you have this pretty much correct on your own blog but post a comment here that is clearly in error.

      I don't understand your second point. Yes some bulbs are rarely used and in those cases my current incandescent will continue to work fine for years. When they finally burn out I will replace them with whatever bulbs are available. You also state that bulbs could be 'lost or broken'. I'm not sure how you lose a light bulb once it is screwed into a socket. It is possible to break them on rare occasion, but I don't think that significantly effects the payback calculations.

      Next you argue that incandescent provide heat which reduces energy used for space heating in a home and cite some studies. While there may be some small effect, the studies you cite were performed in Canada, Sweden and the UK. These countries are much cooler than the US in general and much more energy is used for heating than cooling. Down here in the lower 48, I run my AC about as much as my heat. Any time I'm using the AC, the incandescent bulb is a drain on the system. Also my heating system is a hybrid - part natural gas and part heat pump. My heat pump COP is 3-4 vs 1 for the bulb. So any BTUs generated by light bulbs actually cost me 3-4x as much as running the heat pump. Not a good deal. Natural gas heat is also much cheaper than electrical resistance heat, so again I would rather run the furnace than use light bulbs for heat. I will also argue that light bulbs generate heat up near the ceiling where it does little good. Electric baseboard heat is installed at the baseboard for a reason - heat rises. A hot bulb near the ceiling doesn't really help keep me warm.

    2. Your mention of 'power factor' with respect to CFL and LED bulbs is a bit off topic since my post was specifically comparing incandescent to halogen (which both have PF of 1.0) but it did prompt me to do a bit of research on the term as I am not an electrical engineer. It does seem that cheap, low end CFLs may indeed have low PF. But is this really a problem? Most consumers are moving past CFL to LED anyway. I found a great explanation of power factor here:
      Note that the presentation referenced is over a year old and the part is available now with a PF > 0.98.

      Beware of making sweeping statements such as "many cheap LEDS...also have power factor issues" with no evidence to back them up. In this experiment: the power factor measured of a typical Home Depot eco-smart LED bulb was 0.9.
      Comments on the same article explain how a very low PF of 0.2 causes a generating utility to use 8% more fuel, not 5x as much. All in all, I conclude that 'power factor' is a non-issue and will not contribute to high electric bills.

      I find your last statement to be an interesting conclusion. You claim that if power companies sell less electricity, they will just raise rates to compensate. This is the opposite of basic supply and demand economics. Less demand causes producers to lower cost, not raise it. But perhaps you were talking about states with 'decoupling'. In these states, such as California, the utility can increase rates if it sells less power. A good article on this concept is here: You must also be aware that rates can increase anytime the utility needs to build more power plants, such as here: In general, energy efficiency costs much less than new power plants, so rate rises under decoupling should be much much smaller than rate rises for building new plants. The whole point of efficiency standards is to delay or avoid building expensive new power plants as long as possible.

    3. (I am splitting comment and de-activating links etc
      - the replies are "published" but then disappear right after, so might be in spam folder)

  2. Bill, you nailed every point, no need to even follow up. Thanks!

    1. Thanks Bill, (and re Will)

      interesting and informative observations in the comments.

      I would say that unlike most against the ban,
      I agree energy savings are good, with extensive electricity related examples given

      However, energy efficiency regulations whether on light bulbs or anything else are a bad idea and achieve little savings for many general reasons

      More specifically,
      light bulb regulations make little sense anyway,
      in view of the fraction of 1% energy usage saved, on US Dept Energy, EU, UK Cambridge etc stats and surveys
      - with more relevant electricity generation, grid distribution, and alternative consumption savings involved,
      also in view of the 2030 targets stated with light bulb regulations.

      A good article, the Cambridge scientist network observation after the 2009 EU ban

      On the various other arguments,
      I updated "The Deception behind the Ban" answers to most of them

      On some specifics,
      the EISA regulation backstop paragraph
      means 45 lumen per Watt end regulation by 2020 (at the latest)
      - the point anyway is that the common 2012 replacement bulbs will not be allowed, which "Media Matters" etc choose to ignore
      (though I agree that the CFL-enforcing hysteria is wrong)

      Re rarely used, lost, broken,
      expensive rarely used bulbs save little or no money,
      bulbs may be lost or broken in storage and transfer rather than in fittings (and one might add "dud" bulbs).

      Re Bulb Heat, room heat rises to the ceiling anyway and spreads down from there - it's called convection, and many use lower side lamps.
      The point is otherwise of course not to heat a room with bulbs, it is just a useful side-effect.
      Use with air conditioning is voluntary, and may be preferred for light quality reasons.
      Your points are all answered in the mentioned
      (not link coded in case of spam block with too many links)


    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. Continued...

      Re power factor,
      certainly balanced CFLs are available but cost more
      Osram/Sylvania themselves admit the 2x energy usage with common CFLs, as linked.

      Domestic LEDs don't all have transformer sections raising the PF. Your 0.9 figure is still lower than 1!
      I never said LEDs are as bad as CFLs, and I never said they use 5x more energy. is a good source on LED issues and news.

      RE "I conclude that 'power factor' is a non-issue and will not contribute to high electric bills."
      that is strange, since you admit the CFL issue, and CFLs are still more sold than LEDs (also on basis that LEDs cant provide the omnidirectional bright light replacement at the same price as CFLs, for 100W bulbs etc, as easily noted on any visit to general stores).

      Re utility compensation and utilities raising bill rates,
      that is referenced onwards

      Re "Less demand causes producers to lower cost, not raise it."
      Not necessarily.
      Grids are often under ownership or main supply of dominant utilities, who have to cover their costs, and their effective monopolies is why state regulators watch that prices are not raised, without good cause.

      Price lowering in distribution system with monopolies is stimulated by increasing competition.

      Utilities are allowed to raise prices if they can show it as necessary to cover supply cost. If they sell less, or are expected to sell less, that has been allowed in some instances, as in UK and some states, though I could link more, time precludes all I'd like!

      I simply illustrate the faulty political arguments employed.
      If you or others are happy with your choices, why not.
      It does not necessitate enforcement, in my view,
      and the energy saving rationale is faulty certainly from a society perspective - besides which people pay for their electricity and its supply, a restriction not justified by any expected future shortage given all the new sources, also with environmental conditions.

      Virtually no coal (the main culprit) is saved from banning bulbs because of how power plants work - a fundamental misunderstanding

      I would lastly add,
      that Taxation-subsidies and Competition measures are better than regulations even if bulbs "need targeting"
      or more fully

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Thanks again for your comments Peter, you have obviously thought a lot about this issue.

    As for alternatives, I would gladly trade light bulb efficiency regulations for some type of carbon tax or cap/trade scheme - but since that is politically impossible I'll take what I can get.

    I also believe that our current grid is antiquated and the future of power will be much more distributed with multiple producers (including individuals) and I support any legislation that will encourage that type of change. That will also spur innovation and increased efficiency in the generation of power.

    Also the regulations only apply to general service bulbs, decorative types are excluded so we can all continue to enjoy those types in our chandeliers and decorative fixtures.

    I never claimed CFLs with a PF of 0.5 use 5x the power - if you got that impression I apologize for the bad example. The point was that a PF of 0.5 doesn't necessarily mean that the generator will require 2x the amount of coal, it's more like 5% more (according to the one source I read which I admit I haven't confirmed). Regardless bulb PF will increase to >98% very soon if they haven't already so again this is a non-issue in the long term.

    Lots of coal is saved by reducing energy usage because reduced demand delays construction of new power plants or allows old coal plants to be retired sooner. I understand that reducing my usage by a few hundred watts doesn't cause the local coal plant to be 'turned down 0.00001%' - its all about reducing the rate of expansion or increasing the rate of retirement.

    I still argue that without the regulations (or some type of carbon tax) we would not have the plethora of efficient bulbs we see today. In general efficiency regulations are a good thing, be it bulbs, HVAC, refrigerators or cars. They spur innovation and save people money - win/win.