Lunaya Pravda

14 May 2007

Endangered incandescents

Rather than creating incentives to switch to the more energy-efficient compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) now common on the market, governments around the globe are adopting various timetables to phase out or ban the incandescent light bulb.

I'm not entirely sold on the case against the incandescent bulb. Yes, they're energy hogs, with a mere 5% of the energy they consume emitted as light and the rest wasted as heat. (Okay, sometimes that heat isn't wasted; reptile tanks usually make use of it.) I could conceivably realize some savings in my electricity bill by switching to CFLs entirely.

And I have, to a degree. My outdoor bulbs would burn out once a month because of broken filaments caused by the vibrations from regular training flights conducted by the nearby air force base. Tired of wandering around the house to change bulbs, I switched all my outdoor lights to CFLs, which have no filament to break. And the woman who fixed up my house before I purchased it did install some fixtures that take nothing but energy savers. Other fixtures will take either, and as the incandescent bulbs burn out, I replace them with fluorescent ones.

But (you just knew there was a "but" coming, didn't you?) I haven't made the switch completely, and it's not for a lack of effort. Not every lamp in my house is accepting of the newfangled CFLs. I have two lovely lamps in my living room, each of which takes two bulbs, that stubbornly refuse to play nice with the new ones. I have two halogen desk lamps that also won't make the switch. CFLs aren't generally dimmer switch-friendly. I haven't tried CFLs in my motion sensor lights, but then again, I haven't seen a flood light or a small candelabra light that isn't incandescent. When I start having to consider replacing multiple lamps and light fixtures as well as the bulbs in them, the meager cost savings in energy flies right out the open window.

New fixtures? Strike 1 against the CFLs.

CFLs have hefty transaction costs, even when all your lamps and fixtures play nice with them. Right off the bat, they're damn expensive to purchase. I can buy 8 incandescent bulbs for less than the price of one CFL. And they're not easily disposed of. You can't just throw them in the trash--they require hazardous material disposal because of the 5 milligrams of mercury in each bulb. Some hardware stores have take-back programs for CFLs, and in many places, the local dump will take them, but either way, that's an extra errand for me because I can't just drop it in the trash or recycling bin and be done with it. If every household were using CFLs, trash hauling companies might begin accepting them at the curb, but I wouldn't count on it.

And where does that mercury end up? Some studies suggest that despite their mercury content, CFLs would net a decrease in mercury released to the environment because (in theory) fewer coal-fired power plants would be operating, therefore releasing less mercury. Sorry, but I'm not buying it. Because power plants are quasi-governmental, there's no way they'd be allowed to close solely because of lower energy use. And it doesn't factor in the amount of extra mercury ending up in the environment because many folks are ignorant of the fact that CFLs can't be disposed of like regular bulbs, or the danger to your household should one break before you've disposed of it.

Mercury hazards and an extra errand just for disposal? Strike 2.

Lastly, color me skeptical that anyone is likely to realize lower electricity rates from energy conservation. Energy rates aren't subject to the laws of supply and demand, largely because of *gasp!* government interference. Local monopolies dominate the market. If I want electricity, I either hook up to the sole local provider, or I sit at home reading by candle light. I can't do business other energy company whose practices and rates I find more reasonable. If use and demand fall, rates still increase. As an example, during a particularly dry 2001, Seattle Public Utilities strongly campaigned and encouraged folks to use less water. The public responded favorably by significantly cutting consumption. And at the end of it all, what did SPU do? Because so little water was used compared to projections (which are synonymous with budgets), SPU lost money and needed to raise water rates. I suspect any drastic reduction in energy use would net the same reward. And what incentive does any public utility have to keep energy rates low? When was the last time you've seen one petition the public utilities board for a rate decrease?

And not only that, I'm willing to bet the energy savings is a farce similar to the lies that brought us low-flow toilets. Toilet flushing in America is completely insignificant when you consider water consumed by agricultural and industrial uses. Nothing. We could all start doing our business in the woods behind the house, and statistically speaking, water usage wouldn't go down at all. I suspect, though I have no evidence, that energy wasted by incandescent bulb usage is much the same--an insignificant blip next to energy spent by industry and air conditioning. Why bother with all this if our net gain as a nation is using 0.001% less energy than we did before?

Liars dangling the carrot of lower energy bills and energy consumption? Strike 3--YOU'RE OUT!

So, with the prospect of a phase out of the incandescent bulb looming, I'm doing the only thing I can--hoarding incandescents. It's incredibly ironic that congresscritters spend so much time talking about creating incentives to become more environmentally conscious, yet the incentive they're creating now has driven me to do exactly the thing they don't want me to do--buy incandescent bulbs, in larger quantities than I would otherwise buy. If those idiotic fucks in Washington think I'm going to replace all my unacceptable lamps and light fixtures or spend serious cash having them retrofitted to accept CFLs because "incandescent bulbs are bad, mkay?", they can kiss my ass.

Labels: , , , , , ,