This morning, there was an article in the Toronto Star that caught my eye. Tyler Hamilton's Lights fantastic, and efficient article in the Business section of the Star got me thinking. If they could phase out the production of a number of substances believed to be responsible for ozone depletion (essentially Chlorofluorocarbons (CFC)) with the Montreal Protocol, why can't the same be done with incandescent light bulbs.
What is an incandescent light bulb?
The incandescent light bulb is a source of artificial light that works through the process of incandescence. An electric current passes through a thin filament, heating it and causing it to emit light. The enclosing glass bulb prevents the oxygen in air from reaching the hot filament, which would be otherwise rapidly destroyed by oxidation. A benefit of the incandescent bulb is that they can be produced for a wide range of voltages, from a few volts to several hundred volts. However, this type of light bulb has a relatively poor luminous efficacy. This means that its ratio of the total apparent power of a light source to its actual total power, is not good compared to newer lighting technologies.
- Glass bulb (or "envelope")
- Low pressure inert gas
- Tungsten filament
- Contact wire (goes to foot)
- Contact wire (goes to base)
- Support wires
- Glass mount/support
- Base contact wire
- Screw threads
- Electrical foot contact
Approximately 95% of the power consumed by an incandescent light bulb is emitted as heat, with the remaining 5% of power being emitted as visible light. This is extremely inefficient, compared to other types of lighting, such as fluorescent lamps which emit closer to 20% of power as visible light. In addition, incandescent bulbs produce much more heat, which end up adding to air conditioning costs, increasing the need for more energy to cool down a building in the summer.
Alternatives to Incandescent Light Bulbs
There are some current alternatives to incandescent light bulbs. One of these alternatives is the compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), which one can readily find available at most major stores these days. CFLs use about a quarter of the power of incandescent bulbs to produce the same amount of light. For example, a 14-watt CFL produces the same amount of light as a 60-watt incandescent bulb (approximately 900 lumens or 60 lumens per watt). A comparison of the operating costs of these two light sources follows (using $0.10 per kWh for cost of energy).
(for 800-900 lumens at a rate of $0.10/kWh)
The average lifetime of incandescent light bulbs is about 750-1000 hours. It would take at least 6-11 incandescent bulbs to last as long as one compact fluorescent, which have an average lifetime between 11,250 and 15,000 hours. This causes an additional total cost of using incandescent bulbs.
Going further into the future, light emitting diodes (LEDs) technology should become more prevalent. In Hamilton's article, he writes of a company called Carmanah Technologies, based out of Victoria, Canada, that can't keep up with demand for its solar-powered LED lighting systems, which airports, municipalities, transit authorities and defence departments across North America and Europe are eagerly ordering. The reason is because for some applications, it costs more to put in electrical wiring (i.e. to a bus shelter or an airport runway) than to pay a premium for lights that can operate exclusively on sunlight and battery technology. Each system sold means a lighting system that won't be drawing from the electrical grid.
Carmanah's CEO says that LED technology is "crystallizing" in the area of general illumination and that it will eventually target its LED light systems at everything from walkways and parking lots to school campuses and phone booths.
Not too far from Carmanah is Burnaby-based TIR Systems Ltd., which touts itself on its Web site as "Building the Foundations of Tomorrow's Lighting." TIR's Lexel LED technology is aimed at general lighting and promises an 80 per cent reduction in electricity consumption. Steve Campbell, a spokesperson for TIR, calls lighting the "low-hanging fruit" for efforts to address the Kyoto Protocol and global warming. He also states:
No other world energy consumer represents a faster opportunity to reduce global energy consumption.
LED developers are heading toward lower-price markets that aim to replace the filament-based light bulb.
Two other alternative to incandescent light bulbs are silicon-based lighting technology and fibre-optic technology. While less mature than CFL or LED technology, investors and venture capitalists behind both technologies are hopeful that the can bring products to market at the $1/bulb milestone.
Why should we ban incandescent light bulbs?
Despite rising environmental awareness, steadily increasing electricity prices, industry innovation and heightened public awareness, it is difficult for people to embrace change. While it would be ideal for people to voluntarily switch to more energy efficient lighting sources, reality has shown that true buy-in comes when users have no choice but to accept it. We have seen this with the rising use of blue box/composting programs, coupled with cut backs/limits in garbage pickup.
Could this ban work? Here's where past history in the form of the Montreal Protocol comes in. Prior to its implementation, people thought that it would be nearly impossible to phase out CFCs. Despite these feelings from its skeptics, this international treaty, which phased out the production of CFCs over a set schedule, forced all stakeholders to actively pursue and bring to market alternative CFC-free products, and as such, many of the targets that were agreed upon within the Montreal Protocol were achieved ahead of schedule.
If the Montreal Protocol was able to cause this type of change with regards to CFCs, why couldn't something similar for incandescent light bulbs also occur? We have viable alternatives to incandescent bulbs today. With the elimination of incandescent bulbs on the market, this would force the public into replacing incandescent bulbs with more energy efficient solutions. This would in turn spur on more investments in other lighting technologies, thus causing prices to drop once a critical mass of new products hits the market. All new buildings (residential, commercial, industrial) would be fitted with these same lighting solutions.
While this would not be a popular ban to implement, the potential gains in this endeavour would outweigh the short term pains that might be experienced during the transitional period.
We all have a part to play in helping to reduce the amount of energy we consume; this would just be one of our first steps.
Planning, Light Bulbs, Technology, lighting, Incandescent lights, compact fluorescent lights, LED, silicon lighting, fibre optic lighting