The “Better Use of Light Bulbs Act ” (H.R. 6144 ) would repeal Subtitle B of Title III of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 , the latter of which acts as a de facto ban on incandescent light bulbs. As it stands, 100 W incandescents will be phased out in 2012, and by 2014, the Edison light bulb will be contraband. In turn, this has raised concerns about forced obsolescence of legacy technologies.
Should the incandescent ban proceed, the likely progenitor is the CFL. This has irked many consumers, who point out a litany of problems associated with the compact fluorescent lamp—its cold, bluish light, time to full brightness (3 minutes ), dimming issues, and more.
Since at least 1998, the Department of Energy (DOE) has been touting the CFL. The Energy Policy Act of 1992’s stated goal was “to improve energy efficiency.” Following this directive, the DOE designed the 1998 Sub-CFL Program  to promote the compact fluorescent lamp.
The Sub-CFL Program was designed to produce smaller, cheaper CFLs for residential and commercial use. In Phase 1, bids were solicited for lighting manufacturers to provide CFLs that met “minimum technical specifications.” The criteria were weighed heavily in favor of size and price. Together, price and size constituted 80% of the scoring criteria, with product warranty and a ratio of cost/life a mere 20%.
With such skewed priorities, its no wonder the modern CFL is rife with problems. As the NY Times recounts , the Sub-CFL Program “jump-started a mass market and eventually led to sales of discounted bulbs at retailers like Costco, Wal-Mart Stores and Home Depot.” The government initially promoted the CFL and is now encouraging its dominance through the incandescent ban.
The EU has a similar ban in place, and the first phase (covering 100 W bulbs) went into effect September 1, 2009. The result? Massive hoarding and consumer dissatisfaction. Der Spiegel reported that sales of incandescents rose by 80-150% across Germany. Obviously, the public wasn’t ready to embrace CFLs. One can expect similar results on this side of the Atlantic—massive hoarding and an incandescent black market.
Should government force the early obsolescence of legacy technologies? Or should the transition occur organically? Should consumers decide? Or the government?
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