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.
As an engineer, I have more concern on the PFC and EMI issue with electronic bulb (mostly LED). There are way too much EMI around us. I would like to see more studies about the environmental impact including the actual saving on energy from power plant, the cost to dispose them and the energy wasted to manufacture the bulb. People have the right to know more!
As regards the aesthetic desirability of filament lamps in some circumstances, it seems an opportunity to make such lamps much more efficient. One might fashion a spiral side-emitting fiber optic 'filament' and emit light from high a efficiency source into one of the ends.
There are a number of other considerations that drive my selection of illumination at home. The cost of the newer bulbs is almost never offset by the longer promised life or running cost savings. With an active home (read here kids!) bulbs do not last very long in particular locations. As a parent I am greatly concerned with the potential hazards of the newer bulb contents.
I use the newer fluorescent bulbs in a number of protected areas (outside light fixtures)and in some limited areas. The cost is too high and the startup times too long for me to fully adopt the "new lighting" everywhere.
I would like for the practical and economic considerations to drive the marketplace instead of legislation. If the newer lights are truly better, then they will win in the market.
Jill, should I have said 'him' when referring to SallyF above? Or maybe 'those that'? If the author were a man my comments would have been the same except 'he' would have been used instead of 'she'. The thrust of my comment is that an engineering manager with that type of attitude could not objectively deal with projects bordering on a technology that grates with their ideological beliefs. The comment above was in response to guidelines that are, or may be mandated by a regulating authority.
If you want to understand what I'm talking about go a Walgreen's pharmacy and read their explanation about possible unavailability of certain contraceptive products.
Good overview Bill. The wealthy "cost is no concern crowd" are much too ready to not only abandon the teriffic technology that is incandescent lighting, but to actually deny the use to others through legislation. Technical issues shouldn't be decided through legislation. Sadly even some scientists and engineers are looking for a quick fix or a feel-good approach to complex issues.
You mentioned that "Legislation and energy concerns are discouraging or eliminating its use." Yet environmental hazards of alternatives, total costs of alternatives, and inappropriateness of alternatives for many uses demands thorough and deliberate investigation and analysis of use.
I usually don't address other commenters, but I'm making an exception this time. Les Slater your comment displayed an attitude that is incompatible with the engineering profession. Your "Who let her manage engineers?" displays a prejudice and derogatory attitude toward women that is deplorable. You might consider that no one has to "let" women do anything. Women are as capable of earning their position as any man. And regarding your last sentence, the nonsense was yours. Bill's article led out with a reference to legislation which brings in the issue of concern with government involvement in technical issues. Throwing in "fluoridation" in a bald attempt to smear Sally with the brush of conspiracy theorist was bad judgement on your part. And ignoring her points to mockingly ask about "LEDs leading to totalitarianism?" shows an attitude that won't is unprofessional. Your comment was rude and I was tempted to write that it's good that you're retired, but that is not correct. What would be better is retired or working that you show consideration to others, including women in the workplace, that you would want to be shown.
I think the total environmental impact is an important factor but I believe engineers and scientists will make progress in that area. We do need to know the total costs though.
As far as fluoridation, CFLs and LEDs leading to totalitarianism? Just nonsense. And someone's letter her manage engineers?
Political soapboxes aside, the improvement in lighting provided by LED's is nowhere more apparent than in flashlights and other portable lights. A 1 watt LED on my bicycle headlight is now bright enough to "paint" the trail in front of me with light for 40 hours using 4 rechargable AA batteries. Absolutely incredible, compared to halogen or incandescent alternatives. Further, every flashlights that I've ever thrown out was because the bulb went bad. Finally, if we want to melt snow off of a street lamp, surely we can do it more efficiently than with an incandescent light!
There is currently a big movement by bands to make their recordings "lo-fi", add pops and scratches to the recordings, and of course, produce vinyl records. This is absurd from a technology point of view. But emotion still plays a significant role in America's buying habits... As long as it does, inefficient technologies will proliferate.
When we become complacent about every aspect of our lives being controlled by law, we have a problem. How much energy we use and what bulbs we can buy is not a federal issue.
The federal government does not have constitutional authority to dictate what light bulbs people use. The federal government is continually violating the constitution and exceeding its authority.
Every totalitarian government has crushed liberty and destroyed the lives of their people. From Castro's murder of dissident journalists to Pol Pot's and Stalin's forced population relocations, the effect of totalitarian government's is evil. Communist China will still use tanks to kill advocates of democracy.
Governments that aren't kept limited by the people will limit and control the people. The federal government has no constitutional authority over light bulb sales or purchases or usage and must be stopped from usurping the rights of the people. Bulbs today, food and water tomorrow.
The glass coil within a glass bulb CFL (Philips) bulbs rarely lasted for the 10,000 hour rating, more like 2,000 hours, however the plain coil CFLs are doing very well, perhaps making the 10,000 lifetime. Recently an electrical distributor was selling 100W incandescent equivalents for Eur 1.2 which makes for an electrical bill pay back time of as little as 4 weeks or less. The value is indeed exceptional by comparison.
I also had noticed that at least some of the incandescent's heat is not lost heat during winter, or even cold summer nights, however they may not be efficient heaters when placed close to the ceiling, and the heat obviously is lost in warm winter night climates.
Is it not the case that some incandescent types are allowed for applications such as fridges ?
LED replacements are still expensive but dropping in price. Some are rated for use with existing dimmers.
As for Congressional legislation, especially "Federal", less is more, and a true free market (no such thing) would be best for the consumer. It is up to those interested to make their case about the clear advantages of CFL & LED replacements.
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