The Great Light Bulb Controversy

You may not have given the light bulbs you use a great deal of thought, but other people certainly have. In fact, back during the Bush era, a law was passed requiring light bulb manufacturers to produce more efficient bulbs. You might wonder why. What’s the big deal? It’s only a light bulb.

Photo From Earth 911 WikiMedia Jane/Art

As it turns out, light bulbs use a great deal of energy, simply because we use so many of them. Count the light bulbs in your house. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

While you were gone, I counted 20 light bulbs in our small kitchen alone. That’s counting the lights in the refrigerator and freezer, oven, and microwave as well. When all of those lights are burning, and they’re never all burning at the same time, but when they’re switched on, they cost us money because they use electrical energy, which has to come from somewhere. More than likely the power comes from a coal-burning power plant.

Okay, we all know that burning coal creates pollution and produces CO2, which is contributing to “climate change…” maybe, but that’s not even the big issue, even though it’s important. The big issue is that the population in the U.S. is growing, and we can’t build expensive power plants fast enough to keep everyone lit up. And that’s why President Bush signed a bill into law, the Energy Independence and Security Act, requiring more efficient light bulbs to be manufactured. This law won’t come into full effect until 2012, but light bulb manufacturers got right on it.

Photo from CFLBulbs.com

The compact fluorescent bulb was developed and marketed, and now you see them everywhere. We have them all over our house. Every lamp has a CFL. Some of our outdoor fixtures have CFL’s. Some of our overhead fixtures have CFL’s. We like them. They don’t produce as much heat as an old incandescent bulb, and they last a heck of a lot longer. We’ve had ours for years now and have only replaced one bulb that I can reacall. You probably have them too. They use less electricity, and they save money. If everyone got on the bandwagon, it’s predicted that the savings to U.S. energy consumers would amount to about $13 billion, and prevent 100 million tons of CO2 from getting into the atmosphere.

Sounds like a no-brainer, right? Well, there are some questions about this entire undertaking. For starters, CFL’s are way more expensive than old incandescent bulbs. This isn’t a factor if you have lots of disposable income, but for folks barely scraping by, it makes a difference. Then there is the little problem of mercury in those CFL’s. They need to be disposed of properly, or we’ll have an ever-growing amount of toxic mercury in our landfills. (No one talks about the fact that mercury is released in the coal-burning process, but that’s another story. I’m still a fan of coal — for now. It’s the best we can do and a heck of a lot safer than nuclear power plants.)

But I digress. Back to the light bulb controversy. Some people are in a panic, believing that the old incandescent is about to go the way of the eight-track tape. This simply isn’t true. Texas congressman Joe Barton recently proposed a “repeal of the ban” on incandescent bulbs, but there is actually no ban at all. The legislation simply required manufacturers to build a better bulb.

Light bulb manufacturers are continuing to make strides. Maybe CFL’s aren’t the best alternative to the incandescent after all. Maybe it’s the LED, or light emitting diode, light bulb. These used to be pretty dim, but now they’re as bright as any incandescent you can buy, and they come in dimmable types with warm color for inside and outside the home. There is virtually any size, shape, color and configuration of LED lighting that you can think of, but there’s a downside, and that downside is price. I’ve looked at some LED lighting. It uses way, way less electricity than the CFL, and it produces virtually no heat at all, and no mercury. I wanted to buy a few, but then I didn’t want to pay almost $40 for a light bulb, which is what they were selling for the last time I looked in a store. Let’s see, if I replaced all of the bulbs in our kitchen with LED’s, it would cost a whopping $800 to do so. We’d save on our energy bill, but it would cost a lot to do it.

A $31.48 LED from 1000 LightBulbs.com

Meanwhile, we do have LED lighting in our refrigerator. It looks pretty cool in there when you open the door, kind of high-tech looking. Also, some of our Christmas decorations are lit with tiny LED’s. Very bright. Much brighter than the old-style bulbs. Cheaper to burn all night too.

Eventually, the price of LED’s will come down, and we’ll all probably be using those. Some new televisions are lit with LED’s as opposed to the old LCD screens. You’ll start seeing LED lighting everywhere.

I didn’t even mention halogen lighting because they produce so much heat. The light is bright and clear, but the heat is a real problem, especially if you live in the south. The last thing you want to do is add more heat.

In the meantime, choose your bulbs wisely and consider that we’re all sharing the power that comes from that coal-fired plant down the road, and there are more and more of us sharing it every day.


About M.J.Deare

I am a writer, actively researching topics of interest. I am also a graduate of the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville, with a degree in English, and have a master's degree from the University of Memphis. Born in New Orleans, I lived there until moving to northwest Arkansas and from there to Memphis, Tennessee. My husband and I currently reside in The Woodlands, Texas.
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