Why are lawmakers trying to ban the incandescent light bulb? While the word “ban” was used extensively when the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 was passed, the intention of lawmakers was actually to push for more efficient lighting. Originally, the inefficiency of incandescent bulbs would have banned them under this regulation.
Have Lawmakers Banned Incandescent Bulbs?
Under current federal regulation, bulbs that use between 40 watts and 100 watts have to increase their efficiency by 30%. In other words, these bulbs would produce the same amount of light, roughly between 350 and 1200 lumens, but use less electricity. For consumers, that means buying wattage equivalent bulbs: A “60 watt equivalent” bulb actually uses 43 watts or less.
There are exceptions to this rule: specialty lights like rough service bulbs and appliance bulbs as well as certain types of decorative lights aren’t included in this regulation.
The original 2007 congressional bill would have gradually increased efficiency to a point beyond the capability of incandescent technology, but a bill passed at the end of 2011 overturned these increases. However, California has their own regulation requiring bulbs to produce 5 lumens per watt starting in 2013 and 60 lumens per watt by 2018, effectively banning incandescent sales by the end of the decade.
Why are Light Bulbs Being Regulated?
When it comes to lower electricity usage, lighting is what engineers refer to as “low hanging fruit”. Switching to more energy efficient lights is relatively simple and can have a massive effect on energy savings.
The U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates that in 2011, 461 billion kilowatt-hours of electricity in the country was used for lighting. That’s 12% of the country’s total energy usage, equivalent to burning 250 million tons of coal in power plants. Since reducing this electricity usage merely requires a change in the types of light bulbs consumers buy as replacements, it’s been a prime target of regulators.
There are four major types of light bulbs available today: decorative incandescent, efficient incandescent, CFLs and LEDs.
Decorative incandescent light bulbs get around the regulation by pairing traditional incandescent designs with thick filaments and globe-shaped glass, emulating Edison’s original light bulbs so they can be considered decorative.
Efficient incandescent bulbs use halogen, the same bulb design found in automotive lights. As the tungsten filament burns away, the halogen gas inside the bulb reacts with it, redepositing it on the filament. This renewal allows the bulb to operate at higher temperatures, producing more light from less electricity. In practice, these look and act almost identically to traditional incandescent bulbs.
Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulbs have improved tremendously since they were first introduced, offering faster warm up times and better light quality. “Soft White” bulbs offer light similar to incandescent bulbs, while the ability to fine tune light output has allowed manufacturers to make light bulbs that emulate daylight.
LED lights are the most efficient bulb technology available. While advancements have reduced the up front cost, these are still the most expensive bulb technology. However, that higher cost comes with the longest service life, often exceeding 20 years of daily use. Like CFLs, these bulbs can be fine tuned to provide light that’s easy on the eyes.
For now, the incandescent bulb lives on, just with a more energy efficient design. The move towards the required use of CFL or LED light bulbs still has it’s supporters. However, it makes sense for most people to just make the move on their own to energy saving CFL and LED light bulbs, because they help you save money by reducing your monthly utility bills. Learn more about the difference between light bulbs and how to buy super efficient LEDs at the these article links below: