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Bye-bye, incandescent bulb?

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / February 28, 2007



Is Thomas Edison's most famous invention, the incandescent light bulb, about to fizzle into obscurity?

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Thanks to global warming, the ban-the-bulb movement is gaining strength. Australian officials and European lighting manufacturers have announced phaseouts of the energy-draining bulb. A California legislator has proposed a ban. Now, in a move that could speed the move away from the 128-year-old invention, some of the world's largest bulbmakers have joined environmental groups and the California Energy Commission in talks that could lead to a phaseout in the US within a decade, sources say.

The scope of the move – and manufacturers' support of it – is still undecided, they add. "We're talking about a 10-year phaseout of incandescents, but there's no plan on paper on how to do that yet," says a source close to the talks who, lacking authorization to speak to media, asked not to be identified. "We're thinking through and seeking answers to a number of questions," said the source, noting the talks could yet fail.

The negotiations – which could yield a phaseout of incandescents for the huge California market, or perhaps affect the product line in most of the nation – are taking place amid evidence of a rising anti-incandescent clamor.

• On Monday in Paris, the European Lamp Companies Federation, a trade group of lighting manufacturers in the European Union, unveiled a pact to phase out incandescent bulbs, without specifying a deadline.

• Last week, Australians officials announced a phaseout of incandescents bulbs by 2009.

• In California, state lawmaker Lloyd Levine in January introduced a bill that would ban the sale of incandescent bulbs statewide by 2012.

"We are definitely seeing a trend with some leaders in the lighting industry proposing a ... shift away from incandescent to higher-efficiency technologies," says William Prindle of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy.

If the move to dim the ubiquitous incandescent bulb is sweeping enough, it could represent a coup for efforts to curb climate change via greater energy efficiency, he and other experts say.

"Lighting is ... one of the areas where we can achieve significant energy gains," says Claudia Chandler of the California Energy Commission. "We expect incandescent to yield to other technologies as energy-efficiency standards get tougher."

The incandescent bulb is an energy hog. Just 5 percent of the electricity it uses goes to light the bulb; the other 95 percent is heat. Improving light output and lowering heat output would reduce demand for electricity from coal-fired power plants, which emit carbon dioxide. CO2, most climate scientists say, is the single largest contributor to global warming.

Incandescent bulbs are burning in most of the 3 billion to 4 billion screw-in sockets in US homes and businesses – swallowing about 10 percent of all US electricity use, the US Department of Energy reports. Retail giant Wal-Mart has said it wants to sell 100 million compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) by 2008.

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