Bye-bye, incandescent bulb?
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If all homes and businesses used bulbs that are 35 to 75 percent more efficient – such as CFLs and advanced halogen lamps – they would collectively save almost $10 billion a year in energy bills. The switch would also cut energy demand enough to eliminate the need to build dozens of coal-fired power plants, says the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group. That would prevent tens of millions of tons of carbon-dioxide emissions every year for decades, and would help stabilize the climate, says NRDC.Skip to next paragraph
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"We should no longer be selling the least-efficient light bulb," says Noah Horowitz, a NRDC senior scientist. "We have the technology today."
But the venerable incandescent may have life in it yet. General Electric Co. said Friday that by 2010 it would make an incandescent bulb twice as efficient as today's – and by 2012 produce one that is four times more efficient, on par with CFLs.
"Banning any specific technology is absolutely unnecessary," says Kim Freeman, a spokeswoman for GE's Consumer & Industrial division in Louisville, Ky., which includes lighting. "GE supports national policy that will drive improved energy standards for all lighting products, regardless of the technologies."
All incandescent-bulb makers reportedly remain wary of proposed bans, as well as of any marketing misstep that might alienate customers. Like NRDC's Mr. Horowitz, GE officials say they want tougher performance standards for all technologies – not a ban on one technology.
Among three large lighting manufacturers said to be involved in the talks, Philips Electronics North America Corp. is the most enthusiastic, says a source near the phaseout discussions. Osram Sylvania, in Danvers, Mass., seems to be warming to the idea. It's not clear if General Electric, America's largest lighting manufacturer, likes or dislikes the idea, the source says.
All three firms declined to comment on any phase-out discussions. But some say they favor, in principle, a worldwide shift from incandescent bulbs. "We at Philips do support the idea of phasing out incandescent lights over a reasonable period of time, roughly 10 years around the globe," says Randall Moorhead, a vice president for Philips Electronics, the US subsidiary of Royal Philips Electronics in Amsterdam.
Any move in California toward tougher energy standards for lighting are expected to raise the bar for federal lighting-efficiency standards now under review.
A potential drawback is that CFLs contain mercury – about 5 milligrams per bulb, says GE. Incandescents don't. In recognition that CFL disposal could pose a problem, major manufacturers are promoting bulb-recycling programs and plan to cut bulbs' mercury content. Even so, California Energy Commission studies show that a shift to CFLs would yield a net decrease in mercury, because fewer power plants would mean less mercury would be emitted from plants, Ms. Chandler says.