Can the Incandescent Bulb Be Saved From Energy Efficiency Regulations?

incandescent bulb photo

Photo via gregoriosz via Flickr CC

We recently talked about Obama's new lighting efficiency standards, and a couple years ago, the buzz was about new energy regulations with such strict standards that the incandescent bulb looked to be on the way out the door. However, the New York Times points out that thanks to these government energy efficiency regulations set to take effect in less than 3 years, the incandescent is getting a lot of attention from innovators who aim to keep the product alive in a market place increasingly geared toward survival of the most efficient. The New York Times reports:

Indeed, the incandescent bulb is turning into a case study of the way government mandates can spur innovation. "There's a massive misperception that incandescents are going away quickly," said Chris Calwell, a researcher with Ecos Consulting who studies the bulb market. "There have been more incandescent innovations in the last three years than in the last two decades."

The article goes on to point out an innovation by Philips. Their Halogena Energy Savers are $5 incandescent bulbs that are 30% more efficient, with a 70-watt bulb giving off the same light as a traditional 100-watt bulb. However, you could put in a CFL that uses just 18-watts or even lower for the same amount of light, though the light colors are different and that's the chief complaint of users, despite far greater energy savings.

More innovations are highlighted by the article, and indeed we have recently talked here on TreeHugger about new innovations to improve incandescents. But we have to wonder, is all this innovation even worth it, or is it simply human energy wasted on trying to make small improvements on what should be obsolete lighting technology?


Bulbs with all the same lumens, but left to right: GeoBulb LED (7.5 W), typical incandescent (70 W), typical CFL (13 W). Photo via trenttsd

It seems efforts would be better utilized on developing the new technologies that promise far larger reductions in energy use such as LEDs, OLEDs, and even CFLs with improved color spectrums - or even better, building designs that require less lighting to be used in the first place? That is, after all, exactly what GE has decided to do after slinking away from the idea of the high efficiency incandescent it'd bragged about being able to create.

It is not worth the trouble to remake old technology like the incandescent. Companies need to fight the urge to cling to it simply because that's what people are used to. The major companies, including Philips, are devoting energy to these innovations, so it is frustrating to see them divert brainpower to incandescent "improvements." The New York Times piece notes that when regulations take effect in 2012, it's likely that even the cheapest of these new and improved incandescents will likely not fare well against their more cost competitive and equally or more efficient CFL bulbs on the next shelf. Add to that the list of countries that have already banned incandescents, and we're looking at a smaller marketplace anyway. And add on top of all that the fact that one day in the not-too-distant-future, LEDs and OLEDs will knock even CFLs off the shelf.

It may be that US government regulation is spurring innovation in lighting, but consumers will ultimately determine the path of those innovative energies, and in the long run it won't be in the direction of incandescents.

Follow Jaymi on Twitter: @JaymiHeimbuch
More on the Death Throes of Incandescents
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How GE gets the CFL into the Incandescent Shell
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