Tuesday

Whither The Light Bulb?

Now that we are in 2013, incandescent light bulbs have fallen under the manufacturing and import ban laid out in the "Energy Independence and Security Act" of 2007 and are becoming harder to find. Let's face it, Edison's incandescent electric light bulb is 130-odd years old - maybe there's a better way to light up your life? So what's ahead, once your secret stash of old light bulbs runs out?



Well first of all, traditional light bulbs will still be sold until existing supplies run out; it's not a complete ban on the technology. Still, it's tough to say goodbye to such a familiar thing as the household bulb. Plus, when the alternatives are more expensive and can have an odd color cast to them, well...

The big strike against the Edison-type bulb is that it's not efficient in converting electricity to light; typically, something like 10% actually comes out as light and the rest is lost as heat (global warming!!). The competitors are all more efficient to a greater or lesser degree.

Halogen bulbs have a similar "color temperature" (no weird hue) to the traditional incandescent bulbs, and can be used with dimmer switches too. They are a bit more expensive, but are around 30% more efficient.

CFLs, the often-maligned "curly fry" bulbs (Compact Fluorescent Lamps), have  great efficiency and long life, but come with some foibles. The light quality can be a bit harsh, they don't come to full brightness immediately (or at all, if it's cold enough), and they contain small amounts of mercury, which is a big deal these days. They can't normally be used with dimmers either.

LEDs, the new kids on the block - although very expensive at the moment - are also very efficient and (supposedly) long-lived, and can have a more pleasing color than CFLs. They can also be dimmed, and reach full brightness immediately (and in the cold). There are also rather exotic remote-controlled LED lamps that can change color via smartphone apps and a WiFi or Ethernet setup.

CFLs are simply a stop gap and LEDs (or something else) will eventually become the "regular" bulb in our homes. Further out, things like organic LED  (OLED) panels and other exotica may become commonplace. In these scenarios, you whole ceiling or wall may glow at your command to give a soft-but-as-bright-as needed light source.

Some early examples of OLED panel applications

Meantime, you can compare energy savings with online calculators like this. Note that this leaves out the cost of the replacement bulbs.

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