Monday, January 14, 2008

Going Incandescent

A week or so ago I saw a headline in the paper saying that Congress had outlawed incandescent light bulbs, effective 1012 as a part of an energy independence bill.

Now I'm all for energy independence. I'm all for efficiency. I'm "environmental", in that I want a nice environment to live in and pretty wilderness places to get away to when I have time to get away.

Of course, rising energy costs and hyper-inflated concerns over greenhouse gasses were already driving the market that way. As a matter of fact, most of those incandescent bulbs in my house have already been swapped for the mercury-laden replacements. I'm hoping the mercury recovery or mercury containment facilities will be in place by the time my bulbs wear out. I'm far more concerned with mercury in my ground water than I am with CO2 in the air, really. But I do like the 60% energy savings, no doubt.

Still, I think Congress has no business mandating these things.

I've worried about what we will do to replace our dimmable lights. There is a dimmable CF, but it won't look nice in smaller, open-style light fixtures where the bulb is visible (or would be visible if you had to use one of these new fangled things). I know LED is on the horizon, but it's DC and my light fixtures are AC.

So I dug in to this a little more, and it turns out the headline and the story were misleading. Incandescents aren't being outlawed. Oh, the kind we have now are -- but not explicitly. It's an efficiency coefficient that's being mandated. And apparently GE et. al. expect to have an incandescent that is twice as efficient as today's model (~2.2%) by 2010 (~ 5%). Which would put them about halfway in between current incandescents and current CF bulbs (~7%) in efficiency. And you'd still be able to dim them without re-wiring your house.

Apparently tube fluorescent are more efficient than CFs, and high and low pressure sodium bulbs are the most efficient at about 22%. Apparently there are some white LED prototypes approaching this figure as well.

So while I disagree with Congress sticking it's nose in the situation, it looks like it's mostly symbolic. It may force the issue some, but things were headed in that direction anyway. Still, someone came up with the observation that the incandescent bulb has been the symbol of new ideas since ... Edison, and lamented the prospect of squelching our innovative abilities by outlawing the symbol.

A comment on a forum discussing this by someone going by catfantastic caught my eye and my funny bone when someone suggested we won't be able to come up with ideas anymore when the incandescent goes away:

People will still be able to have ideas. It's just, there will be a one-second delay, and then they'll get a slightly dimmer idea, and then that idea will flicker for a second, and THEN they'll get the real idea.

We just need to think of a longer word than "Eureka!" so that people can shout something that covers the duration.

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