Tuesday, February 20, 2007

End of the incandescent light bulb?

The incandescent light bulb that most of us use at home is old enough to almost count as "early history:" Edison (above) and several others invented a variety of different designs well over a century ago. Although they are easy and cheap to make and give a good quality of light, they are now falling out of favor because they are so wasteful. Most of the energy put out by the glowing filament is heat, not light. For some time now people have been pointing out that carbon emissions could be reduced significantly by using small florescent bulbs where incandescents are used now. Business Week reports that Australia is moving to ban the sales of the old bulbs. It's part of a world-wide movement which will eventually break one of our connections with one of the most brilliant tinkerers and marketers of all time, Thomas Edison.

For those of you who live near Dearborn, Michigan, consider a trip to Greenfield Village, where Edison's old Menlo Park, New Jersey research complex was lovingly recreated and preserved by Henry Ford. It's like a shrine to the technologies that made possible the peaceful advances of the 20th century. Edison had an important role in inventing and popularizing such things as the telephone, moving pictures, electrical power grids and much else.


Anonymous Garrahan said...

While it is possible that extensive consumer use of compact fluorescent bulbs might "save" significant energy, the concept is being pushed legislatively from California and has the usual "simple thoughts lead to simple remedies that create vast complex problems" rider. Among them -- the fluorescent bulbs are laden with mercury and microchips, are constructed at great economic cost and use approximately five times as much material (by weight) as incandescent bulbs. They generate frequencies that may interfere with some communications equipment, their performance at extreme low temperatures is poor and they cannot be rheostatically controlled (all dimmer circuits in residential use will fail to function correctly with these bulbs in place). At a guess, a far faster way to conserve energy would target the profligate use of lighting in commercial and governmental outdoor applications. We have become so afraid of the dark that even remote parking lots and freight forwarding areas *must* be lit -- nominally in the name of security, but actually in the interests of legal liability protection -- and generating stations spend lots of time and energy to crank out the watts for illuminating vacant space, unused offices, empty rail terminals and the like long after domestic users have turned off their compact fluorescents and headed for bed. The role of the incandescent bulb is still vital and will likely remain so for many decades to come -- if economics, rather than mandates, drive bulb use then compact fluorescents will probably capture about 40 percent of the interior lighting market over time (considering the limitations of their usefulness and their relatively high cost compared to simpler filament technology).

11:21 AM  

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