In the last couple of days, the entire pre-ordained world of politics has been turned upside down following word of Rep. Michele Bachmann's filing of a bill to delay the phase-out of the manufacture of incandescent bulbs.
Republicans and conservatives are arguing against the environmental impact of CFL, while traditional Democratic and liberal constituencies are saying, "it's not that bad." Down is up. Up is down.
To be sure, most of Bachmann's arguments against CFL light bulbs are moot. Most of what she's asking for in the way of research and studies was already readily available. But there are two areas where her points -- oh, geez, I can hear the blogs now -- have merit.
-1- There is an environmental concern with CFLs to at least consider.
-2- For some people, CFLs are a health risk.
Let's take the second one first, but only because I've already written about it here. In the U.K., there's a phase-out of incandescents. I wrote about it January, long before the millions of you discovered News Cut.
The bulbs are suspected to cause migraines and there's at least some research that suggests they could contribute to an epileptic attack. In the UK, the BBC reported way back when, some groups are asking that the government still allow incandescents to be sold because of this.
As for number one, yes, there is mercury in CFLs and, no, it can't be disregarded out of hand. According to the EPA, there are 5 milligrams of mercury in every CFL. According to a story last month by National Public Radio, General Electric says it could be a problem if the CFLs are used on a wide scale, even though manufacturers have reduced mercury content by 87 percent, according to one trade group.
For the record, mercury is also in your car's HID lamps, streetlights, and the computer monitor on which you're reading this.
Still, if the concern over the coming phase-out is really the mercury involved in light bulbs, then the CFL still wins out. Popular Mechanics got at this issue in an article last year, which tends to turn the mercury anti-CFL argument on its head.
About 50 percent of the electricity produced in the U.S. is generated by coal-fired power plants. When coal burns to produce electricity, mercury naturally contained in the coal releases into the air. In 2006, coal-fired power plants produced 1,971 billion kilowatt hours (kwh) of electricity, emitting 50.7 tons of mercury into the air--the equivalent amount of mercury contained in more than 9 billion CFLs (the bulbs emit zero mercury when in use or being handled).
Approximately 0.0234 mg of mercury--plus carbon dioxide, sulfur dioxide and nitrogen oxide--releases into the air per 1 kwh of electricity that a coal-fired power plant generates. Over the 7500-hour average range of one CFL, then, a plant will emit 13.16 mg of mercury to sustain a 75-watt incandescent bulb but only 3.51 mg of mercury to sustain a 20-watt CFL (the lightning equivalent of a 75-watt traditional bulb). Even if the mercury contained in a CFL was directly released into the atmosphere, an incandescent would still contribute 4.65 more milligrams of mercury into the environment over its lifetime.
CFLs should be disposed of at a county hazardous waste site. The problem is that they often don't make it there. They break while people are changing them or throwing them out. You can find cleanup suggestions here.
The brouhaha the story has caused is fascinating. Overall, the issue has been stretched a bit too tight to fit a political argument. It's not always a bad thing if government steps in to dictate a standard in the public interest. And, in the most honest moments, most people understand that. Otherwise, there'd be a bigger clamor for the right to buy toys painted with lead.
Another point, CFL's are not always as energy efficient as the media would have us believe.
For instance, look at the tables that Bob graciously posted below. These energy comparisons were based on the bubls being left on.
Indeed when you turn a CFL on and leave it on permanently, it lasts longer and saves energy, but that is not how people use all lights.
The incandecent light in your closet is actually more energy efficient than a CFL. because a CFL requires MORE energy to power up and an incandecent. It burns 25% more energy for the first fifteen minutes.
It also burns out faster from being switched on and off.
Having said that, I have switched to mostly CFL's. Mostly, but not all.
The light in my garage, closet and bathrooms are still incandecent.
Since I'm in the suburbs, and in one of those cookie-cutter houses, I'm required by law (sarcasm) to have one of those bathroom fixtures with 6 or 7 incandescent bulbs atop the mirror. THAT's where I need to save some money and while CFLs would be an improvement, the humidity of the bathroom shortens their life considerably.
I DO have CFLs in the garage and it was only this year that I found a model that is perfect for the garage. Like most CFLs, it takes a minute or two to reach full strength, but the light is MUCH brighter than the incandescent and this particular model worked fine, even when the temperatre is well below zero.
I also replaced all the exterior lights with CFLs since they're on all night.
One area not mentioned is the area of decorative lighting. I have a clear globe at the entrway with a clear incandescent. I'd like to put a CFL in there to get more light and save a buck, but there's the UGLY factor involved.
It will be interesting to see how much the cost of the bulb comes down, if at all, once they gain more acceptance.
BTW, I just bought one of those LED work lights for the shop. Those things are GREAT.
" I just bought one of those LED work lights for the shop. Those things are GREAT."
Is this a light that fits a lightbulb socket, or a stand-alone device? Where did you buy?
Greg wrote -- "a CFL requires MORE energy to power up than an incandescent. It burns 25% more energy for the first fifteen minutes."
The CFL does draw a lot of power for a millisecond or two, but that's almost unmeasurable. It doesn't take more energy after that. So you will save energy by putting a CFL in your closet, though not much unless you spend a lot of time picking out your clothes. :-)
I still use incandescent bulbs in my detached garage, primarily because I don't know whether the CFLs I have will work well in cold weather. I should have tried while it was still really cold!
Careful Anton -
The energy required to charge the ballast offsets energy savings for the first 15 minutes.
I found a few interesting facts about CFL's on Wikipedia
A comparison of energy consumption and carbon dioxide production, also needs to specify whether this is in hot, medium or cold climates. The 'inefficiencies' of incandescent lightbulbs in cold countries are virtually zero, since the generated heat offsets some of the need for central heating.
The life of a CFL is significantly shorter if it is only turned on for a few minutes at a time: In the case of a 5-minute on/off cycle the lifespan of a CFL can be up to 85% shorter, reducing its lifespan to the level of an incandescent lamp
Incandescents give light almost immediately upon the application of voltage. CFLs take a moment to brighten up, and can take much longer in very cold temperatures. Coupling this with the shorter life of CFLs when turned on and off for short amounts of time may make incandescent bulbs more attractive for things like outdoor and/or motion-activated lighting.
Ya wanna stop the mercury emitted by coal fired power plants? Build nuclear power plants.
I applaud folks for trying to save energy in ways that are appropriate for them but I so oppose being told how to do that by the government and with something so potentially dangerous and inefficient as cfl bulbs.
Who are the idiots that gave us this law? Oh yeah. Our congress and senate.
I can't believe all you people believing all this bureaucratic BS on these CFLs. There may not be much mercury in 1 bulb but in many it adds up. Remember all the fuss about mercury in fish, thermometers and thermostats? The EPA doesn't want mercury in the landfills, yet they are silent when it comes to CFLs. How come if you break one in your home and notify the EPA, the average price of clean up is $2000.00. And if you think all people are going to dispose of them at a recycle center I have some swamp land for sale! Al gore and his global warming are both a big fraud! Where is the outrage of the government dictating what kind of light bulbs you will be buying in 2012. I for one am not falling for this socialist propaganda.
The thing about statistics and formula is that they can all be manipulated. Most of the comments sound so un alarmed by this push by the new commies.
I don't understand the left. These bulbs are bad. Common sense tells you these are bad. It's discouraging to see Americans acting so....Un American