In defense of Incandescence

Friday, January 29, 2010

A few days ago, @ataussig pointed out that 75% of Americans unaware that most incandescent light bulbs will become illegal starting in 2012-14. I was certainly among the ignorant. I know that environmentalists have been pretty excited about CFLs (compact fluorescent lamps). I’m not.

I’m not against CFLs because I don’t believe the energy savings math.[1]

The mercury content gives me some pause, but doesn't tip the scale. Mercury poisoning is bad, and it doesn't take much to hurt you. Mercury from CFLs gets into the environment when people throw them away.[2] But, CFLs also get mercury into your environment when they break. Check out the EPA’s 206-page study on how to clean up a broken CFL while minimizing toxicity risk from mercury poisoning. For parents that go nuts about what food additives their kids eat, I’m surprised there isn’t more concern over the mercury in CFLs.

No, the real reason I oppose a switch from incandescence to fluorescence is that it just looks terrible.[3] Fluorescents produce more green and less red hues, making everyone look vaguely diseased (lighting experts call this “cool” light). I’m willing to compromise environmentally in other areas of my life, but destroying my visual environment after sundown just isn’t worth it.

The new incandescent ban doesn't seem to be based on good science or good thinking, and that makes me sad. Here's an article that can tell you more.

1. Marginal energy savings to CFLs works out like this: 6x the energy to make; last 6-10x as long using x/4 the energy. So, the energy to use them is a wash, but energy savings from lighting the bulb is ~75%.
2. CFL Fun Fact: CFLs cannot safely be thrown out in the trash, but everyone does anyway.
3. CFLs! Now with more wan!


Anonymous April 8, 2011 at 10:08 AM  

you're forgetting LEDs! these will dominate the future of lighting.

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