There's no doubt that that the venerable incandescent light bulb is on the way out. Legislation and energy concerns are discouraging or eliminating its use.
Certainly, the energy efficiency (lumens output per watts input) of such bulbs is far lower than "electronic" alternatives such as standard fluorescent bulbs, compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), and the up-and-coming LED-based area illumination.
Yet, there's both an esthetic backlash and maybe a practical one to consider. A recent article in The New York Times talked about a trend in eateries and other chi-chi places towards exposed-filament bulbs, "Vintage Light Bulbs Are Hot, but Ignite a Debate". Like most such trend-focused articles, this one was short on data and facts (let's call it "anecdata"), and long on speculation–and even hedged its bets by saying that maybe the trend has already peaked.
I'll put the esthetic arguments aside, since that is largely a matter of personal taste and hard to quantify. But the argument against incandescents has some technical weaknesses:
In many situations, the so-called waste heat of the incandescent is not actually wasted, but serves to help keep a cool area warm. It's a form of electrically sourced heat.
What about the use of incandescent bulbs in extremely hot or cool consumer applications, such as freezers, ovens, and dryers? You can get a temperature-ruggedized incandescent bulb for just a little more than a standard bulb, but I don't see electronic blubs (neither fluorescents nor LED) being viable for those situations coming soon.
The disposal and recycling of incandescents is pretty straightforward; that's not so for electronic bulbs.
Electronic bulbs are non-resistive loads, and thus have power factor correction (PFC) issues that must be addressed. And they are difficult to dim, compared to the standard TRIAC-based dimmer used for incandescents.
Finally, electronic bulbs–especially fluorescents–require a lot of resources to manufacture, and have a long and complex bill of materials (BOM): ICs, passive components, PCB, packaging, and more. It's easy but misleading to ignore that reality or pretend it is not a factor to consider in total environmental cost.
I am not saying that the electronic bulbs are a bad idea, only that they are not a solution in every application, When we decree that a new technology is the only way to go, we are saying one priority is so overwhelmingly important that we can ignore the other factors that go into making a design and selection decision. And that's a bad road to go down, whether in a PCB design or a consumer-product situation. After all, sometimes that road to you-know-what is paved with good intentions, and unintended consequences.♦
You can add that incandecent bulbs are very usefull loads in testing large power suplies.
They are cheap and deffinitely readily available. I sometimes still use 500,1000,and
2000 watt bulbs. ( found in ancient theater lighting)
Electronic bulbs last a lot longer, which is a significant benefit for lamps that are hard to access.
There are trillions of standard lamp sockets worldwide; when electronic bulbs reach a sweet spot of price and color quality they will start to take over. Dimmability will be nice, and expand the market further. But as Bill says, there will always be niche markets for incandescents, just as there are still niche market for vacuum tubes.
" electronic bulbs?especially fluorescents?require a lot of resources to manufacture"
The incandescent equivalent of 1 CFL is 5 to 10 incandescents, depending on whether they are 1000 or 2000hr life.
This is a lot of resources to manufacture, and glass has significant energy cost .
You also have to go change them,go purchase them and go dispose/recycle them etc.
The extra Hg ,radioactive thorium etc that rains down all over the country from burning 4x more fuel can't be cleaned up at all.
Our children have to go fight foreign wars over oil and we subsidize foreign oil dictators.
What I have observed so far with the CFL lights is that they fail miserably in the area of longevity. That is, as an assembly they are really not much better than the incandescent bulbs that they replace. I have only had one reach the end of the actual lamp life, it did last quite a while. The majority of failures are in the electronic ballast portion, where marginal component quality takes it's toll.
Since CFLs do command a bit of a price premium, it might actually be worthwhile for them to be build with a better design, using better parts. But since that is an unrealistic expectation, a second choice would be to make labeling with the manufacturers name, a model number, and date of manufacture, to be a mandatory, no way to get around it, requirement in order for the lamps to be sold in the USA. That would make it possible to track products having reduced lifetimes, and permit the market to decide which makers survive.
I have found they don't fit in a lot of fixtures and I perceive them to be dimmer. I have tried every "color" and "temperature" CFL. I buy the next size up ie 100w equiv for 60w inc's. And finally I have trouble with outdoor/garage low temperature problems.
I use them where I can, but they certainly have their problems. (I agree about the lack of quality/life)
I'm looking forward to trying more LED lights when the price comes down a little more.
PS I hope they don't get rid of incandescents for heat. I use the 4watt nite lites to dry my wet shoes/boots overnite. 7 watts is too much and may damage the shoe.
I suppose I may have to use a 3.65K 5 watt resistor....the lite bulb is much easier.
I use incandescents as a current limiter when troubleshooting amplifiers and power supplies, something CFLs cannot be used for. i suppose i could use a resistor, but the nonlinear temperature characteristic of a lamp is perfect for what i'm using it for. at low currents (i.e. when the device under test is working normally) the resistance is low, and the voltage drop is negligible. when the DUT has a problem, the bulb resistance is very high, limiting the voltage and current to the DUT to a very low idle, and i can troubleshoot the DUT "live" without additional components going up in smoke, there's also the advantage of having the visual indication of whether the DUT is operating normally (dim bulb) or not (bright bulb). such an application is impossible with a CFL or LED lamp.
The rush to make us "green" involuntarily is often thoughtless (like many other causes politicians pile onto). For example, one unintended consequence of LED traffic signals has been quite a few traffic deaths in snowy climates - when the light is obscured by snow stuck to the lens. The old incandescent bulbs also kept the lens warm.
i agree.... i live in colorado and have seen this. snow in this part of the country rarely falls vertically. another phenomenon of LED traffic lights during a snowstorm is the "green-out" the spectrum from a green LED is much narrower than from an incandescent. during a blizzard at night, the whole area around an intersection becomes a green haze with no definition and you literally can't see anything. the human eye is most sensitive in the green part of the spectrum. without other parts of the spectrum, you can't see anything but the snow.
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