NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 10, 2008

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 will soon ban the most common light bulbs in the United States.  New efficiency standards will require manufacturers to produce incandescent bulbs that use less energy per unit of light produced, starting with 100-watt incandescent bulbs in 2012, down to 40-watt bulbs in 2014.

Under the new standards:

  • 100-watt light bulbs are banned entirely.
  • 70-watt light bulbs will have to be 36 percent to 136 percent more efficient.
  • 50-watt bulbs must be 50 percent to 112 percent more efficient.
  • 40-watt bulbs will have to improve 50 percent to 110 percent.

Incandescent bulbs cannot meet these new standards absent a significant technological breakthrough.  Thus, the common light bulb will soon be extinct, say H. Sterling Burnett, a senior fellow, and Amanda Berg, a legislative assistant, both with the National Center for Policy Analysis.

The alternative for most household uses will be compact fluorescent lights (CFLs) designed to fit standard incandescent bulb bases.  CFLs currently make up only 5 percent of the light bulb market.  They have been touted for years as the smart choice for consumers interested in reducing their energy bills, due to their extended lifespan and low energy use in relation to the equivalent light output from an incandescent. 

For example:

  • A 60-watt incandescent bulb produces 850 lumens -- the same light output as a 13-watt to 18-watt CFL.  
  • Unfortunately, except under a fairly narrow range of circumstances, CFLs are less efficient than advertised. 
  • Manufacturers claim the average life span of a CFL bulb is 10,000 hours, however, in many applications the life and energy savings of a CFL are significantly lower.

The public has yet not embraced CFLs, and the government should not impose on consumers its preferences regarding the types of lights used in the home.  As the deficiencies of CFLs become more apparent with widespread use, perhaps Congress will let consumers decide, say Burnett and Berg.

Source: H. Sterling Burnett and Amanda Berg, "Lights Out for Thomas Edison," Brief Analysis No. 637, December 10, 2008.

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