ItÂ’s lights out for old incandescents

- Make your peace and say your goodbyes. The lights are getting ready to go out on the old-fashioned incandescent bulb.

In less than a year, federal regulations will begin phasing out the century-old technology, a process that's already begun in California, which received a waiver to launch the program one year early.

Manufacturers will no longer make the traditional 100-watt bulb, and stores eventually will sell out of current supplies. Consumers will have to choose from more efficient bulbs that use no more than 72 watts, including halogen incandescents, compact fluorescents and light-emitting diodes, or LEDs.

"These standards will help cut our nation's electric bill by over $10 billion a year and will save the equivalent electricity as 30 large power plants," said Noah Horowitz, a senior scientist with the Natural Resources Defense Council. "That translates into a whole lot less global warming pollution being emitted."

The change is part of the federal Energy Independence and Security Act that President George W. Bush signed into law in 2007 to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. The act requires new bulbs to use 25 to 30 percent less energy beginning in 2012 — starting with the 100-watt bulb. By 2014, other incandescent bulbs, including the 75-, 60- and 40-watt, also will be phased out across the country.

Some specialty bulbs, however, will continue to be available. Consumers still will be able to get smaller lights such as yellow bug lights and aquarium bulbs.

Light bulb manufacturers said they haven't received any reports of customers hoarding 100-watt bulbs yet, though that may change once supplies begin to dry up and word gets out.

Whether the local market is ready for the change remains to be seen.

When the Energy Independence and Security Act was passed, the economy was good and customers were quickly adopting compact fluorescent bulbs, or CFLs, that are more energy efficient. Those bulbs were, and remain, considerably more expensive than Thomas Edison's filament bulb, which can be bought for less than $1 apiece. And in 2009, two years after CFLs hit their peak, the Department of Energy reported sales had dropped by 25 percent, with just one in four bulbs purchased being a CFL.

When it comes to market penetration, California, New York City, Wisconsin and several other states are seeing the highest levels — with California the clear winner at about 28 percent, according to data produced by Energy Star, DOE's energy-efficiency agency. Tennessee, however, is not even on the graph.

Supporters of the technology say the newer energy-efficient bulbs last so much longer that there is a financial savings in the end. For example, while incandescents provide as much as 2,000 hours of light, compact fluorescents can provide light for six times longer. Incandescents, which create light by passing an electric current through a tiny tungsten wire filament, also waste 90 percent of the electricity they use as heat instead of light. Fluorescents, by comparison, apply an electrical current to different types of phosphers to produce light and produce less heat.

The United States isn't plowing new ground with the legislation. Australia was the first to begin phasing out incandescents beginning in 2009, followed by the European Union, the Philippines and Argentina, said Michael Petras, president of GE Lighting. Mexico and Brazil are expected to follow the United States.

Bulb manufacturers here have been retooling their processes to make room for CFLs, but customers haven't yet jumped on the bandwagon, said Ben Taube, executive director of the Southeastern Energy Efficiency Alliance in Atlanta.

"On the production side, manufacturers have been prepared and are ready for the lighting transformation," he said. "On the consumer side, I think it's one of those areas where it's been an ease into education. People react to changes in markets in both positive and negative ways. You get used to the bulb that you like, and that's what you want to have."

Nick Reynoza, manager at Royal Lighting, a Los Angeles designer lighting retailer, said it's a shame the transition comes at a time when alternatives are so much more expensive.

"It's not really an option — you have this or you don't get anything," he said. "The options are more expensive. Four incandescents are $1, the halogens are $5.99 and the LEDs are like $20."

But for the rest of the country, price shouldn't be an issue by the time the deadline rolls around, Taube said.

"The price will drive itself down to be comparable with what we've experienced in the past with traditional incandescent bulbs," he said. "I think we're going to hit price points that are not shocking at all."

Still, although organizations like the Southeastern Alliance for Clean Energy and other conservation groups back the change and the lighting industry has invested heavily in new technology, not everyone supports the law. Rep. Joe Barton, R-Texas, for example, reintroduced legislation this year to repeal the law.

"People don't want Congress dictating what light fixtures they can use," Barton said on his website. "Traditional incandescent bulbs are cheap and reliable."

Adam Gottlieb, spokesman for the California Energy Commission, acknowledged that the change has resulted in a "great deal of hue and cry" on blogs as well.

Recent postings have included the titles "More dim bulbs: California banning 100-watt incandescent light bulbs" and "More evidence that California is nuts."

Gottlieb, however, said it was not a ban and that consumers can still buy whatever bulbs they want as long as they meet the new standards.

"After 130 years Tom Edison's old-fashioned light bulb is getting a 20th century makeover," he said. "The simple truth is consumers will save money."

But fans of the traditional bulb say they provide a softer, more natural light and turn on more quickly. In addition, the difference in CFL technology can create some problems, like cause them to burn less brightly and shorter than advertised, depending on the location, according to the Lighting Research Center, which studies lighting from its home at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in New York. The organization advises buying CFLs with the Energy Star label and keeping receipts for CFL purchases.

GE Lighting's Petras said the industry is aware of the shortcomings and is working to refine the technology.

"We've got compact fluorescents that look like incandescents," he said from the company's headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio. "We have a product coming out this spring that's a hybrid of compact fluorescent and halogen that will provide energy savings and a better startup time."

At Stokes Electric and Lighting, a Knoxville company with locations in Pigeon Forge and Crossville, Tenn., preparations already are under way for the switch.

Bob Stokes, a branch manager for the company, said the process to alert consumers to the changeover has begun. The company, which has an electrical supply store on McCalla Avenue and a retail lighting center on Papermill Drive, is holding workshops on the new bulbs and regulations.

"I think it's going to be huge," Stokes said. "We're still selling both products and we're trying to educate the public."

Stokes said the changes will affect all lighting, whether for a small utility room or a large stadium. Although newer, energy-efficient bulbs are more expensive than their traditional incandescent counterpart, Stokes believes they will come down in price as the technology improves and they go mainstream.

And while pricey, Stokes said consumers will notice a savings difference in their energy bills.

Stokes Electric and Lighting sales vice president Mike Lakin said he believes CFLs are simply a stepping stone to more efficient, better quality lighting in LEDs.

Government and business already is investing in LEDs, Lakin said, and "the consumer side of it is coming more and more.... It's more of a cleaner light, it's closer to the incandescent."

Meanwhile, utilities are starting the process of educating customers about the biggest light bulb change-out in this nation's history.

"We are in the process of learning about this federal legislation and how it will impact our customers," said Grace McNeilly, KUB spokeswoman. "But we always encourage our customers to purchase products that use less energy."

Except for Californians, said Taube, most people probably don't even know the change is coming — but when it does he doesn't envision any sort of revolution at the local Walmart or home supply store.

"They'll just realize they're not there anymore, and they'll move on," Taube said.


in Year