July 26

In 2007 President Bush signed into law an energy bill that requires light bulbs to be 30 percent more efficient by 2012.  Sounds like a good idea, right?  Today’s old-fashioned “Edison” bulbs turn only 10% of electricity into light — with the other 90% turned into heat.  But now some “brilliant” lawmakers want to overturn the 2007 law, and they’ve introduced legislation to do so.

Their rationale?  People should have the right to choose how they want to light their homes and businesses, regardless of bulb type or efficiency.  Now, I’m all for a free society and minimal government impact on our lives.  But the reality is that America has five percent of the world’s population, but consumes a whopping 25% of the world’s energy.  Expressed another way:  On average, each one of us consumes five times more energy than an individual in any other country on the planet.  And lighting is one of the heftiest contributors.

Edison bulbs have been around since 1879.  As we all learned in school, Thomas Edison found a way to create light by sending a current through a metal filament, causing it to glow. But this ancient technology, as mentioned above, is a terribly inefficient light source; for most homes, it’s the second-largest energy expense.

Today’s energy-efficient light-bulb alternatives come in all shapes, sizes, and types.

The now-popular “curly” fluorescent light bulbs (a.k.a., compact fluorescent lights, CFLs) are much more energy efficient (20% or more).  But some people don’t like the slight turn-on delay.  And, contrary to recent media reports, they don’t contain life-threatening levels of mercury.  Yes, they contain some mercury — but only about one hundredth (1/100) of the mercury as the medical thermometers we grew up with.

My personal preference is the LED light bulb, based on the same LED technology used in everything from flashlights to TV displays.  They are considerably more expensive — $20 to $40 per bulb.  But, because they are up to 80% efficient (vs. an Edison bulb’s 10% or a CFL’s 20%), they pay back quickly in energy savings — and can save hundreds of dollars per year in operating costs.  And forget about replacing them.  Under typical usage, a single LED bulb can last up to 25 years.

Watch for the costs of LED bulbs to plummet over the next year or two, as demand and production increase.

Companies are springing up, all across America, to manufacture both CFLs and LEDs.  These companies are creating jobs and fostering innovation.  Now if only the light bulb would go on in the heads of our politicians.