Originally Posted by Hands Sandon
... Americans could be saving a whole lot of energy with, but 90% are still incandescents. Incandescents here in the UK cost far more than these bulbs, blow all the friggin time and cost far more to power.
You raised a good point Hands. It's certain that CFLs produce more light
per unit energy but if the goal is environmental protection, or energy savings, their advantage over incandescent lamps is dubious at best.
Consider the components of a CFL: A glass tube and metal base are about all they have in common with an incandescent. What makes them different is the electronic ballast, which contain a bunch of electronic components that have their own cost to manufacture, distribute, and dispose of at their end of life. We already know about mercury but they also need a lot of plastics, copper and other metals, carbon film resistors, tantalum capacitors, inductors, rectifiers, etc. for their manufacture.
They weigh about three times as much as an incandescent. There is no question which one of these takes more energy to produce.
OK, so producing and disposing of them presents a larger environmental and energy cost, than incandescent lamps, but wait, aren't CFLs supposed to last longer, and they won't be thrown away as often? Well, that hasn't been my experience. Switching them on and off as frequently as one does a normal incandescent reduces their useful life, that's certain. The only question is how much, and that's more difficult to estimate. Some experts estimate this normal on-and-off cycling will reduce their life by as much as 85%. I've had some CFLs last as little as a year, while others are going on three years. One anecdote does not prove a thing but this life is no different from my experience with incandescents.
What happens when an incandescent lamp "burns out?" I put that in quotes since that's what we call it when an incandescent reaches its end-of-life. An incandescent fails "normally" when its filament breaks, and is rather undramatic since the failed component remains inside. Other than the user smashing them, not much else can fail.
A user can also break a CFL's glass tube, but must then address the cleanup of toxins - another story altogether. However, a CFL has many additional failure modes, limited to the number of components it contains (see the above picture). When a CFL fails it might simply fail to illuminate, it may overheat and discolor the base, the light may produce strange colors, it may emit smoke, sparks, and flames, or all the above. It's such a concern that Canada produced this safety alert
that advises consumers dispose of their CFLs at the first sign of failure. Therefore some degree of premature disposal is certain, but again, we really can't determine the aggregate effect of such behaviour.
Then there's the light a CFL produces. It's subjective, but the color they produce is objectionable to some. Although they're better than a few years ago, all CFLs take a while to "warm up" so people might change decide to leave them on all the time. They consume less electricity so why not? Not switching them on and off all the time will help with extending their operating life, but has anyone considered the effect of using 7W all day long vs. 60W just occasionally? I doubt it.
Speaking of power CFLs don't have a unity power factor like incandescent lamps. What does that mean? The explanation gets technical but it means that watt for watt, a utility company must generate more for loads with a power factor of less than unity. Residential and most commercial users are billed for kilowatts
, but the utility must always supply full voltage and current lest everyone be subject to a power reduction. If their aggregate load PF decreases, electric utilities are not only going to have to pass on their generation costs to the consumer, they'll have to pass on the cost of upgrading their equipment to handle the larger aggregate current demand.
(Large inductive loads - big motors and transformers - consume current out of phase with the voltage supplied. The phase difference is called power factor. If they're exactly in phase the power factor = 1 and the power consumed is exactly equal to the product of voltage and current. If the power factor < 1 then current lags voltage and the utility has to supply more current for the same power requirement. There you go, a whole semester of EE in one paragraph
A single CFL is an insignificant load, so its power factor isn't significant either. However, has anyone considered the effect of replacing hundreds of millions
of unity PF incandescents with low PF CFLs? Probably not.
What about dimmers? I use energy-efficient electronic dimmers throughout my palatial estate. Some can be controlled remotely, some are programmable, they have memory for specific settings etc. They're great. Unfortunately none will work with CFLs. Nor will nearly every other dimmer, electronic like mine or simple ones. What will happen to all those dimmers once incandescents are no more? Scrap heap. What will happen to aggregate power consumption without the ability to use energy-reducing dimmers? No one knows.
Sure, there are "dimmable CFLs" but they're no panacea either. They operate by rapidly cycling the power to the lamp, which may reduce the life of its components. Also, none can be dimmed to anywhere near the degree an old incandescent can be. The dynamic range of light reduction is much less. Furthermore, I called the manufacturer of my electronic dimmers and asked if such "dimmable CFLs" are compatible with their products. They're not. Again, they're destined to the scrap heap. Environmentally friendly, not.
Lastly is the question of energy efficiency once installed and in use. Forget about the toxic materials, the cost of production, distribution, disposal, cleanup. Forget about the objectionable light quality or fire hazards. Forget about the purchase cost. Let's concentrate on the one remaining, inarguable point, that CFLs are far more energy efficient:
Why do we use light bulbs? For light, of course. When do we use them? When it's too dark, of course. Why is it dark? Because the sun went down, of course. What happens when the sun goes down...?
It gets cold.
What do we do about that? We burn fuel to stay warm. That hasn't changed since Prometheus. No matter what fuel you burn you need a certain number of BTUs of heat to maintain a habitable environment. The heat can come from a number of sources, some more efficient than others, but the amount of energy required
to stay warm is a constant. When you're still awake and alert in your office or home, you have the lights on when it's dark out, and in the northern hemisphere, that's generally between October and April. One way or another, half the year you're burning fuel.
In terms of luminous
energy efficiency incandescent lamps are pathetic. About 5% of the energy used to illuminate a room actually produces light. What about the other 95%? Where does it go? It produces heat. What will happen to that heat when you replace it with a CFL? It has to come from somewhere, else you'll be cold. So you'll burn more gas, oil, coal, or wood or use more electric heat if that's your only alternative. In the winter months, when we use more artificial light, the net energy savings will be zero.
Obviously the effect is the opposite in the summer. You have to get rid of waste heat with energy too. My point is, we use more artificial light in the winter than in the summer, and you use it longer. Has anyone thought about that? If anyone has, I can't find any references to such an analysis.
I don't want the nanny state mandating what kind of light bulbs I can or can't buy any more than I want it telling me what kind of toilet I can flush in my home. It's stupid to be wasteful, and I'm intelligent enough to determine what is and what isn't. I'm also confident enough in the intelligence of others to make their own decisions, and the ability of free men and free markets to invent better alternatives. CFLs aren't it.
There will be better alternatives. I believe LED lamps will be a viable alternative, and soon. They won't have toxic materials. They can be dimmable. They're way more efficient than CFLs. They're incredibly rugged and last practically forever. At the moment they're not bright enough and much too expensive, but like LCD displays, there's no reason they won't eventually be produced very cheaply. Comparing incandescent lamps to LEDs is like comparing CRT display tubes to flat-panel LCD displays. Eventually they'll be viable enough and we can forget about the old incandescent.
CFLs aren't the answer, and forcing everyone to use them is irresponsible. It's a classic case of governments all over the world doing something half-assed in reaction to a threat, Whether the "threat" is real or imagined, this cure is worse than the disease.
The incandescent ban is
wasteful. Kill it.