Friday, March 02, 2007

Looking for light

I want to see the light; I really do. And pretty soon I may not have a choice. Australia has ordered incandescent (traditional, ordinary) light bulbs phased out by 2012. The U.K. is looking at doing the same thing; so is California. We expected to switch to compact fluorescents light bulbs (CFLs), the squirrelly bulbs. Wal-Mart aims to help (!):

"We are committed to selling 100 million CFL bulbs this year," said Andy Rubin, Wal-Mart vice president for sustainability.

CFLs use about one-third of the electricity in incandescent bulbs. Instead of making light by creating excess heat, they use a charge to bounce ultraviolet photons around against a phosphorous-coated glass container and that makes light. (At least that is what I can understand about it.) There's a lot less energy going into wasted heat in the squirrelly bulbs, according to How Stuff Works. A California legislator likes that:

The bulb bill's sponsor, Assemblyman Lloyd Levine (D-Van Nuys), called outlawing traditional incandescent bulbs "a simple idea" that would save resources while causing little or no inconvenience to consumers. "When you're running short of power, one thing you can do is find a way to make that energy go farther," he said.

Okay, I get it. We have to use less, so this is going to be one of the ways we get there.

The problem is, about five years ago, I tried to make the switch and I learned a lot of things the CFL enthusiasts don't tell you. I learned so many things that we no longer have any of the squirrelly bulbs around here -- and we really tried.
  • CFLs go poof and die if you use them in a fixture with a dimmer switch. Nobody told us that; it is a costly mistake. No more dimmer switches?
  • CFLs don't emit their full light until they warm up. This takes awhile. If you are used to lights going on when you flip the switch, you begin to think your eyesight is failing.
  • CFLs give off weird light -- harsh, bluish, unpleasant. They say modern ones are warmer. I hope so.
  • CFLs come in some of the most annoying, impossible-to-open, plastic armor know to human kind. The only way to get into the stuff is to cut it with shears. I think this is because they contain mercury and the vendors don't want any breakage til you get the package.
  • CFLs cost less than they did six years ago, but still two to three times as much as incandescents. I was told they lasted much longer than ordinary bulbs, thus more than making up for the higher initial cost. This did not seem to be true. We got months more perhaps, but nowhere near the 5 or 7 times longer life span promised.
  • But with CFLs, we're supposed to make up the higher cost because we'll use less electricity. This may very well be true; but when electric bills are soaring higher even faster than health insurance rates, it is nearly impossible to tell. I may have been saving wonderfully and still paying double for electricity. Not how the magic of the market is supposed to show its mettle...
And yet, and yet, we do have to save energy. We can't go on like we have, acting as if the planet's resources were infinite and we favored North Americans had a right to anything we can grab. I will try the squirrelly light bulbs again. I imagine someone will figure out how to make better ones and make a profit off the improvements. I hope so.

1 comment:

Arif Mamdani said...

the light quality is much better on newer bulbs, but not all of them. In fact, you can still buy CFLs with light that is downright ghastly. I'd imagine that somewhere, someone has reviewd the different offerings which might come in handy if you decide to give the CFLs another go.

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