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  • And Then There Was Light: Will Energy-Efficient Light Bulbs Increase Energy Use?

    It seemed so simple: To reduce energy use, Americans must abandon the old-fashioned incandescent light bulb in favor of new energy-efficient lighting. Congress even passed legislation in 2007 mandating a phase-out of the familiar “Edison” bulb in the name of saving energy.

    Now comes a study concluding that energy-efficient lighting will likely increase energy use. The study, sponsored by Sandia National Laboratories in New Mexico and funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, is based on the observation that the percentage of gross national product spent on artificial lighting has remained remarkably constant for the past three hundred years. Instead of using advances in technology to reduce expenditures on energy, individuals have consistently opted to take advantage the lower costs made possible by those advances to increase the light around them.

    The same result is likely with new technologies, the new study’s authors find, focusing particularly on solid-state lighting technologies such as light-emitting diodes (LEDs). The increase in energy use may be substantial. The report estimates that the total consumption of light could increase by a factor of 10 over the next two decades. And the amount of energy used to produce that light could double.

    That’s bad news if your only goal is to reduce energy consumption. But if you are actually concerned with improving human welfare, it’s quite good news. Benefits could range from increased workplace efficiency to reduced crime to fewer cases of depression. “[R]ather than functioning as an instrument of decreased energy use,” said lead author Jeff Tsao of Sandia, “LEDs may be instead the next step in increasing human productivity and quality of life.”

    If that’s correct, there’s still no reason to make the new lighting technology mandatory. But for the reduce-energy-consumption-at-all-costs crowd, the prospects may create a dilemma. For them, as The Economist wrote, “the answer may not be to ban old-fashioned incandescent bulbs … but to make them mandatory.”

    Posted in Energy [slideshow_deploy]

    15 Responses to And Then There Was Light: Will Energy-Efficient Light Bulbs Increase Energy Use?

    1. K.Cole Arizona says:

      Great article! Seems those tricky greenies keep forgetting that the majority of people anywhere, not just in the USA, want to improve their situation, not revert to "naturalism". I've had to live without electricity for monetary reasons (didn't have it) and it is not very fun. These folks want us to live with no electricity, no plumbing, no natural gas, no homes, no roads,… you get the picture. You did forget one important issue regarding the increased use of boondoggle lights. It's the increase of mercury that will be released in the environment via landfills etc. Most people don't know that these lightbulbe need to be disposed of by a hazmat team. Read the box, and be outraged that congress has REQUIRED the use of these things!

    2. Jennifer May, Tempe, says:

      If every American home replaced just one light with a light that's earned the ENERGY STAR, we would save enough energy to light 3 million homes for a year, save about $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent 9 billion pounds of greenhouse gas emissions per year, equivalent to those from about 800,000 cars. This, according to http://www.energystar.com.

      To me, it makes NO SENSE to INCREASE your lighting useage just because you switched to a more efficient bulb… you're essentially negating the impact of changing! Switching AND reducing your energy is the key.

    3. TonyfromOz Rockhampt says:

      I understand it's not polite convention to link to my own post on this related subject of Compact Fluorescent Lighting, but it does provide some insight into the false economies associated with the subject.

      The Post explains how the savings amount to only 40 cents a week, or around $20 a year at the individual residential household level. That's if you replace every bulb in your house with these new CFL bulbs. The cost for those bulbs would be considerably more than than that $20, so those individual savings would not start to kick in for some years.

      The savings in electrical power consumption at a National level if everyone were to do this at that residential level are also illusory, and so minimal as to not count when extrapolated over the individual electrical grid areas.

      The link to that Post is as follows.
      http://papundits.wordpress.com/2009/07/02/light-b

    4. spudmomof6 says:

      When you had to haul your water up from a well, carry it on your shoulders, and heat it up by gathering and chopping your own wood, you used a lot less water. Fewer clean clothes and bodies, more disease and smell. Does that mean that we should save the planet by reverting to this practice?

      Energy use promotes efficiency, travel, leisure, and personal happiness. In my lifetime we have learned to reduce the polluting effects of much of it (I grew up in So. Cal. with horrible smog) while at the same time increasing our freedom to pursue happiness. I suspect that the true difference between radical environmentalists and Boy-Scout conservationists is that one group considers humans as interloping locusts destroying a secular paradise, while the other considers the planet a gift from God to His children that we are to subdue and use with wisdom as we learn to love one another.

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    7. Keith Diederich says:

      So, Jennifer, if I understand you correctly, you're saying that if I can get more and better lighting for my home, spending the same amount of money, I shouldn't do it? That it makes no sense for me to do it? Why not?

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    10. The Elephant's says:

      We've learned that the "Energy Star" designation is meaningless for appliances. It probably is for CFLs as well. The light from a CFL is unpleasant. We are told that CFLs cannot be used in an "enclosed space" which means all those ceiling fixtures with glass enclosures, porch lights and so on. Then there are all the odd places one uses an incandescent bulb — in the refrigerator, the oven, the sewing machine. What about all my track lights? What about my hall ceiling fixtures that take a halogen bulb? CFLs do NOT give better light, they flicker and give me headaches. Anyone who has strolled through the light bulb aisle at Home Depot with a critical eye, will wonder at the sheer stupidity of the legislation.

      Aside from the basic principle that Congress has no business telling citizens what lightbulbs to use, the law is silly, and as usual, Jane Harman considered neither the complications nor the unintended consequences. Everybody I know is hoarding incandescent bulbs. This is undoubtedly another bill that Democrats advocated "to reduce our dependence on foreign oil", or our "addiction to petroleum" — unaware of how electricity is produced — by the way not by either windmills or solar panels.

    11. Bob Ciappa Long Isla says:

      How much energy does it take to make a CFL vs. an incandescent?? Don't forget about those Chinese glass blowers exhaling CO2.

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    13. Andrew Bissell, Manc says:

      An interesting article indeed. It is surprising to see the theory that people would simply install more lights because for 300 years new technology has always brought about a greater use. Personally I would question that theory for a number of reasons. Only in the last 10-15 years (in the UK) have we really cared about the amount of energy we are using and how it is generated. Therefore 30-50 years ago I would agree new energy efficient lamps would have meant people feeling like they should have 5 lamps in their lounge instead of 1 and thus the energy saving is zero. Or shoud we say with each new gadget invention we feel we should make use of it to the full. Equally 30-50 years ago we were not very well educated as to the impact of lighting, i.e. too much light during the evening will not allow you to fully relax and for your body to operate as it should (circadian rhythms).

      However now, with the cost of energy at ~15p/kwh in the UK depending on tarriff and a greater knowledge of lighting design and it's impact, if we can use a light bulb which saves us about 50-75% of the energy, then we do it and we don't appear to be going around adding in more lights everywhere. In fact I would say we are well and truly in the habbit of turning them off when we don't need them.

    14. cjohnson, Wilkes-Bar says:

      It's called Jevons' Paradox, named after William Stanley Jevons who first wrote about the phenomenon in the 19th century. Every piece of technology which is designed to make something more efficient for an individual ends up increasing the overall consumption.

      More efficient technology allows more people to share the bounty of a resource and to consume it more often. It also means that the physical limits of a resource will be exceeded much faster, especially for those who feel that renewable energy resources are hopeless and that humankind will use fossil fuels and other centralized energy infrastructure to bring all 6.8 billion and counting people on the planet to an American standard of consumption.

      If we can come up with about 18 trillion inexpensive gallons of gasoline equivalent of global primary energy consumption per year versus 4 trillion today without turning the planet into a sterile sphere of entropy, then this may be possible. Otherwise, people will need to live less consumptive lives with the economic system reworked to account for this. And it is certainly possible to have a high standard of living without a high standard of consumption. In my opinion people would be much happier than running on a treadmill in the giant Rube Goldberg machine we call an economy today.

      Technology does great things but it cannot break the laws of thermodynamics.

    15. I saw something about that topic on TV last night. Great post.

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