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Next-Gen Incandescent Bulbs Revive Old Debates

Mon, 07/06/2009 - 9:56pm
by Jason Lomberg, Technical Editor

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Jason_Pic130Those writing incandescent’s obituary may want to stay their pen. The NY Times reports on the efforts towards modernizing the “Edison lightbulb.” Leading the pack is Philips’ Halogena Energy Saver, purportedly 30% more efficient than similar incandescent bulbs.

The 2007 Energy Independence and Security Act sounded the death knell for traditional incandescents. While it doesn’t ban incandescents, it does set wattage limitations and other restrictions that will effectively eliminate the Edison lightbulb in its present form. Starting with the 100 W bulb in 2012, and ending with the 40 W in 2014, the Act will transform lighting as we know it.

Philips’ Halogena Energy Saver is an attempt to preserve the incandescent light bulb. In their review, Consumer Search describes the Halogena as “a midpoint in energy efficiency between compact fluorescents and regular incandescent bulbs.” They have a lifespan of two years (assuming four hours’ daily use), contain no mercury, and according to Philips, are 30% more efficient than similar incandescent bulbs. Unfortunately, they share the same disadvantage as LEDs: high RIP Incandescent?cost.

Why haven’t LEDs seen mainstream success? It’s simple--they’re expensive. On X-tremeGeek.com, a 150 LED, omni-directional bulb (equivalent to a 45 W incandescent) can be had for $59.95. Granted, the lifespan of LEDs is infinitely greater than incandescents, but your average consumer won’t plunk down $60 for a light bulb. Halogena Energy Savers won’t set you back $60, but they’re more expensive than your run-of-the-mill incandescent bulb. Incandescent bulbs typically run $.50 to $2. Halogenas cost about $5 each.

Is the longer lifespan worth the initial investment? That’s the immortal question. The same could be asked of LEDs. Tech pundits tend to think so. Many companies are banking on it. Will “early adopters” drive mainstream acceptance of Halogena Energy Savers? That’s for the consumers to decide.

Unfortunately, consumer “choice” is somewhat limited. The 2007 Energy Act mandates the phasing out of traditional incandescent bulbs by 2014. Consumers can then choose from among the next-gen incandescents (including the Halogena), CFLs, LEDs, or other lighting technologies. But traditional (i.e. inexpensive) incandescent bulbs will be eliminated. Consumers will be forced to pay more for lightbulbs (similar to how national emissions standards will add $1,300 to each automobile). Do the ends justify the means?

I’ve said this many times: the average consumer won’t be swayed by environmental issues. Most are concerned with one thing only: the “bottom line.” Thus, “no mercury” isn’t a very convincing argument to pay 3-10 times as much for a lightbulb. Consumers must be convinced that the long-term savings are worth the initial investment. Only then will products like the Halogena Energy Saver catch on.

Do you agree? Disagree? Think I’ve gone mad? Leave a comment below or e-mail me directly.

Note: The preceding represents the view of the editor and not necessarily ECN.

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