NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 22, 2008

Beginning in 2012, the manufacture and sale of incandescent light bulbs, starting with the 100-watt bulb, will become illegal.  Instead of paying less than 20 cents for a standard incandescent bulb, we will all be forced to purchase compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) for about $3 each or more, says David Deming, a geophysicist, an adjunct scholar with the National Center for Policy Analysis.

While CFLs may save energy, we should be skeptical of the exaggerated claims made for CFLs, says Deming: 

  • The fine print is that the average lifetime is not 10,000 hours, but "up to" 10,000 hours.
  • In many applications, the lifetime of a CFL and estimated energy savings are significantly lower than we have been led to believe.
  • For a compact fluorescent bulb to achieve the claimed efficiency, it has to be burned continuously for long periods.
  • If a CFL is left on for only 5-minute periods, it will burn out just as fast as an incandescent bulb.
  • To avoid short cycling, the U.S. Energy Star program advises consumers to leave compact fluorescents on for at least 15 minutes.

There are other problems with CFLs, says Deming.  As most people know, they contain toxic mercury and cannot be thrown into the trash, but have to be recycled.  CFLs become dimmer as they age, and thus again will not perform as advertised.  The quality of light from fluorescent bulbs is inferior to incandescent.  Standard CFLs won't operate at low temperatures and are thus unsuitable for many outdoor applications.

Given that the upcoming ban is on manufacture, not possession or use, it would seem the rational person has only one option: to hoard standard incandescent bulbs while they are still available, says Deming.

Source: David Deming, "Fluorescent bulb follies," Washington Times, August 21, 2008.

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