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Lights Fantastic

For most of the 20th century, consumers could choose between two kinds of light bulbs—the familiar round incandescent bulb or long narrow fluorescent tubes.

Those two shapes offered contrasting styles of light: the incandescent bulb’s warm buttery glow so pleasant in homes, or the fluorescent tubes’ cooler bluish-white light so economical in schools and businesses.

Today consumers have a third choice. Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs, for short) combine the best features of each, lasting longer and offering great energy savings.

Yet since their introduction 20 years ago, CFL bulbs have been very slow to gain acceptance with the light-bulb-buying public.

Julie Smither, a program manager at the Kentucky Division of Energy in Frankfort, says, “The first compact fluorescent bulbs gave off a sort of blue light—and they flickered when first turned on. That’s not what people wanted in their living rooms. Today’s improved CFLs have a warmer color to them and they don’t flicker. One part of our exhibit at the 2003 Kentucky State Fair featured two identical lamps in identical situations, but the lamp on the right had an incandescent bulb and the lamp on the left had a CFL. Fair-goers could see that both pools of light were a warm, pleasing color.”

Good quality light is easy to demonstrate, but showing the energy-saving benefits and durability of CFLs takes a bit more effort.

The glowing wire filament inside an incandescent bulb gives off the light (measured in lumens), but it also produces heat, wasting enormous amounts of energy. A fluorescent bulb uses the flow of electricity through gases to make the phosphor coating inside the bulb’s glass give off light without much wasteful heat.

While an incandescent bulb produces about 15 lumens of light per watt of incoming electricity, a fluorescent bulb produces between 50 and 100 lumens. That means a fluorescent bulb can be four to six times more efficient.

Another part of the State Fair exhibit demonstrated this with a pair of bulbs hooked to electric meters. The incandescent bulb’s meter spun much faster than the one on the CFL bulb, which barely turned as much less electricity was needed to produce the same amount of light.

CFL manufacturers now include direct comparisons of the amounts of energy used on their packaging to help consumers see the difference. Equivalent light-producing CFL bulbs usually use only one-fourth the amount of electricity required for incandescent bulbs.

And since there’s no filament, CFLs last a lot longer. A typical 100-watt incandescent bulb will produce light for about 750 hours. But a comparable CFL will last 8,000 hours. Most CFL packages feature comparisons that show both the energy and cost savings.

One other group promoting CFLs is the Kentucky Association of Electric Cooperatives.

Dennis Cannon, KAEC’s vice president of Member and Public Relations, says, “We’ve figured that an average electric co-op customer in Kentucky would save about $30 in energy costs over the lifetime of the bulb if he or she used a CFL instead of an incandescent bulb.”

Although CFLs offer good quality light, durability, and substantial energy savings, many consumers are still resisting making the switch. Consumers looking at price tags balk at paying five dollars or more for a single CFL.

But as Cannon points out, “Even though the initial cost of a CFL is generally 10 times that of an incandescent bulb, when you consider the long-term savings it’s well worth it. CFLs are good for consumers who want to reduce the amount of money they spend on electricity, and they’re good for our member co-ops because they reduce electricity demand. That in turn reduces the amount of power required. It’s a lot cheaper to conserve electricity than to build electricity generation and that’s good for our members who own the co-ops.”

To find out more about compact fluorescent light bulbs visit this Web site: www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=cfls.pr_cfls

Next month: LED Lighting

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