Friday, July 22, 2011

Light Bulbs

The GOP recently failed to overturn George Bush's 2007 new light bulb rules.   Bush's law created efficiency standards for light bulbs.  You are allowed to keep any inefficient bulb you already own.   The law does not outlaw incandescent light bulbs - you can still buy any that meet the standards.  In fact Home Depot is already selling incandescent light bulbs that meets those standards.  Look for Halogen and HID light bulb.   HID refers to High Intensity Discharge.  They have no filament, but instead a small capsule of gas (such as Halide, Neon, etc.)   They are more efficient than a regular light bulb and last longer.  Like Halogen bulbs, they are dimmable.   HID bulbs sometimes use mercury, but not all the time.  Fluorescent bulbs electrifies mercury vapor that gives off ultraviolet light that is converted to visible light by a phosphor.   As such, all Fluorescent bulbs have some mercury in them.

In addition, bulbs below 40 watt and above 150 watts are exempt.  So are specialty lights such as 3-way, colored, plant grow lights, and heat lamps.  If you are hoarding 25 watt bulbs vanity or 200 watt flood lights, you are going to find out how foolish you are in about 6 months

Oh, and if you break a CFL normal people just throw it out.  Just as you used to do when you broke a mercury thermometer.  In most cities, this is legal.   Some cities may have special rules.  The EPA always did advise you to triple bag the mercury and dispose like you would a car battery - but I bet you never did that did you?   You also probably never wore a bike helmet - but aren't all upset and suing the bike companies.   I would however advise you to aire out the room after a CFL breaks.

A small thermometer had about 0.500 grams of mercury, while a big one had about 3.000 grams.  A small CFL has.... 0.001 grams of mercury and a big one has 0.005 grams of mercury.    The amount of mercury you get from breathing air polluted by coal power plants is far higher than if you were to break every single CFL you ever buy.   If you don't think coal power plants should be required to cut their mercury content by 90%, then you shouldn't care about the mercury in CFLs.  

The law comes into effect on in 2012.  After that, among other things, that means it will still be legal:
  1. To get the nice, full color light of incandescent light bulbs.  (Get a Halogen or HID bulb)
  2. To use 200 watt floodlights.
  3. To put in "sauna lamps" for those that like to have a super hot bathroom.
  4. To buy light bulbs for your garage 'oregano' farm. (But the cops will still catch you.)
  5. For movie theaters to continue their obnoxious practice of putting 200 watt spot lights above their soda counter, directed at the people in line - making them hot and thirsty.  At least they aimed them so as not to hit the people behind the counter.
  6. To use a dimmer switch with a cheap light bulb (HID again, or,if you are an idiot  you can of course choose to buy expensive florescent bulb designed for them, or a regular expensive LED light )

But there will be some issues.
  1. People will not be able to buy new 100 watt bulbs for their Easy Bake Oven.  The new easy bake ovens will use a heating element.  Hasbro does not recommend buying a 200 watt bulb - it will over-cook and might start a fire.  And they can't charge you $5 for a replacement heating element.
  2. You will save money on electricity - and if you get your electricity from burning coal, will put less mercury in the environment even if you break a CFL every year. 
  3. Everyone will realize how stupid the GOP is for trying to panic people over non-issues like this. 
Whoops, no #3 will not happen because people never admit when they were wrong.

Note, hear some actual bulb pricing numbers, for a 100  watt equivalent bulb. (all from Home Depot

Standard Incandescent:   $1.27 for four bulbs.  100 watts, 1620 lumen, 750 hours, dimmable
Long Fluorescent: $14.97 for 10, 32 watts, 2,800 lumen, 20k hours

CFL (Fluorescent pig tail):  $5.97 for 2  23 watts, 1,500 lumen, 10k hours, not dimmable
Full Spectrum CFL: $7.97 for one, 27 watts, 1,400 lumen, 10k hours, not dimmable
Dimmable CFL: $9.97 each, 23 watts, 1,400 lumen, 10k hours, dimmable
LED: $46.97 for one bulb, 18 watts, 1,200 lumen, 25k hours, dimmable
HID: $14.97 for one bulb, 100 watts, 3,800 lumen (note this is twice as bright) , 24k hours, dimmable. 

On line I could not find an HID 50 watt bulb that cost less than the 100 watt, so I went with the 100 wattI also could not find any Halogen bulbs at Home Depot that meet the new standard. They do exist, but Home Depot doesn't have them .... yet.  Look again in a year.

Note that some (not all) HID light bulbs and all fluorescents have mercury in them, but LEDs do not.  In addition, we have already begun to reduce the amount of mercury needed in the fluorescents .   Where they used to be 1/1000 as much as in a mercury thermometer, now you can buy them with 1/4000 as much. 

With electricity costing $0.12 to $0.50, a kilowatt hour, that means that a typical standard incandescent light bull will cost your more than $9 in electricity for it's short 750 life.  Times 13 to match the lifespan of a typical CFL, and you get $100 for electricity.   At less than 1/4 the wattage, that means a typical CFL saves over $75 in electricity costs.    If we were to package them with the EPA recommend breakage cleanup equipment (3 zip lock bags and rubber gloves), throw in  pre-paid FED EX box to a national dump, and we still save over $40.   That is assuming that unlike most people, you won't just treat them the same way you treated a broken thermometer.

The GOP continues to try and push this ridiculously unimportant issue that has already been settled under George Bush.  Despite the fact that debt talks are far more important and immediate.  Why?

They think it is a good "the democrats are trying to regulate your life too much" issue.   This is a major theme for their campaign but frankly they could not find a lot of examples, so they push the few they have (Health care and light bulbs apparently). 

Obviously some regulations are needed.   So when should we regulate and when should we leave the free market alone?

To me the answer is pretty obvious - when we come across a situation that the free market isn't dealing with well AND is of national importance, then we regulate.   Energy use is one of this countries biggest issues.  We import oil and in doing so support some of the most evil countries in the world (mainly by keeping the price of oil up, as we tend not to buy directly from the really bad guys).    In addition, lighting uses up about 10% of our energy production.   That makes light bulb efficiency an important issue, just like gasoline efficiency.  The math I showed above makes it clear that the CFL and HID are a better financial choice.  Clearly the free market is not working well here. This is an ideal example of when regulation is a good idea.

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