Soon the traditional Edison light bulbs that have been staples for years will no longer be available. Incandescent light bulbs of 40 watts and above are being phased out using government incentives and edicts to force energy savings and likely will reduce the number of nuclear plants that will need to be built. The transition to energy-efficeint bulbs has been coming for quite some time. With motivation from sky-high electric bills, I have been trying to find suitable alternatives for about 15 years, but have only had mixed success. Here are things that I have learned that should help you get better prepared.
Compact Fluorescent Light (CFL) bulbs have been my primary alternative until recently. I have a small stock of them that I am gradually using up. I would not get any more. A major reason is that I did not realize that they contained mercury when I purchased them. With all of the controversy over mercury pollution from large tube-type fluorescent lights a number of years ago, it is hard to believe that manufacturers did not learn their lesson. I never thought not to trust them. Another reason is that it takes considerable time for CFLs to turn on and then reach full intensity. This is annoying, and some CFLs do not fit a few of the lighting fixtgures that I have. Others are poor quality and prone to premature failure. One even corroded and came apart during my testing.
That leaves new LED replacement bulbs. They are likely the ultimate answer, and they have been appearing in more and more specialty applications. High cost has been a major factor, but considering lower maintenance costs and reduced accidents attributed to burned out traffic lights and tail lights, it can be well worth the added expense for more reliable, longer-life, more efficient bulbs. I remember the need to replace a bulb in the dashboard of an old car of mine. It cost a couple hundred dollars to disassemble the dashboard to replace a small bulb that cost pennies. Christmas lights are no fun either when it is hard to find bulbs that have burned out.
As far as finding replacements for standard higher watt bulbs, there are a number of challenges besides the cost. Although costs are starting to come down fairly rapidly, the cost to replace a single 100-watt light bulb is still about $25. However, there is no single replacement that is good for every application. Many LED bulbs are quite directional, cannot be dimmed and provide light that is much whiter than incandescent bulbs. This makes it difficult to mix bulbs, and each application can require a different configuration. Three-way LED replacement Bulbs, such as 50-100-150-watt equivalents, are not available as yet.
Things are gradually improving. A 100-watt equivalent bulb that I bought in late 2009 is very directional. It requires 13-watts of power and retailed for over $50. New ones only require 12-watts, are about $25 and much less directional. I am testing one in a floor lamp in my family room. It is much better than the earlier design. Drawbacks are that their “warm white” light still lacks the slightly yellow hue of an incandescent, and some lamp housings lack the clearance to accommodate the bigger bases of LED bulbs.
LED bulbs have a lot of overhead compared to old-style incandescent bulbs that only contain a filament. They typically have arrays of individual LEDs with heat sinks, rectifiers and cooling fans. I found that a Ground Fault Interrupter (circuit breaker) in the 30-plus-year-old main incoming electrical panel in my garage did not allow me to put an LED bulb in the ceiling above my bathroom sink. The LED bulb kept tripping the breaker. I either needed to use old bulbs or re-wire the bathroom. Because of situations like that and the need for 3-way lamps, I now have a few Edison bulbs that should suffice until LED alternatives become available to satisfy these needs.
Since stocks of old bulbs are disappearing and becoming more expensive, now is the time to learn about options, set expectations and get prepared. When I gradually got rid of CRT computer monitors and tube-type televisions, I did not necessarily see my electric bills drop. Sometimes they stayed the same or continued to rise even as usage dropped. In any event, I would have been much worse off had I not continued to adopt new technology to improve efficeiency. Expect benefits like these to continue for many years to come.
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Tom Rockwood was formerly Corporate Engineering Manager for Energy and Material Resources at AT&T.
A few years ago, I printed a few thousand pages per month on my laser printer. I wore out several of them and used dozens of cartridges and countless cartons of paper. Today, I hardly ever turn my printers on. In many respects I have gone paperless and have readily searchable files in electronic filing cabinets. However, it is not as simple as it sounds. Along with the benefits, there is a downside.
I can remember seeing people on television who had lost all of their personal records. One woman tearfully told a reporter how all of her children’s baby pictures were in the house that they were watching float down a river to certain destruction. A survivor of Hurricane Katrina had also lost all his medical records when his hospital and doctor’s office were distroyed. It was difficult for him to tell doctors what they needed to know to treat him. Having electronic records in their pockets would have helped both of them.
Businesses also save millions of dollars of postage and other costs when they can send out bills via email, and it is easier and cheaper for customers to pay online. There are security concerns, but think of all the forests that can be saved. Yet, email reminders may get lost and there are healthy penalties for failing to pay on time, and people who need receipts must now print their own. Also, if you store your records online, in a cloud somewhere, there is no guarantee that the business will not be discontinued as is happening with Google Health and their online personal health records. Fortunately, for Google Health’s users, Google is giving their customers plenty of time to find alternatives and make an orderly transition.
For the do-it-yourself electronic recordkeepers, there is another set of challenges. People who remember 35mm slides, 5-1/4 inch and 3-1/2 inch diskettes, 8-track tape, VHS and music cassettes, and other obsolete media have probably agonized when they found that they no longer had a means of using their old media. When they could find a working machine to read it, they often found that the media had degraded and could no longer be read. Electronic files become corrupted and, at best, it can take a costly commercial or government process to attempt to reconstruct electronic information. It is certainly not possible for the masses.
I have scanners that enable me to convert documents and pictures into digital files. I could not be without them. However, once something is digital, dangers of corrupted files and outdated media need to be addressed. The first time I lost a few pictures on a camera memory card reminded me that everything has a failure mode. Same thing with hard drives that have a lot of moving parts and wear and tear. Then there are CD-ROMs and DVDs. Even if they stay in their jackets and avoid scratches, they will ultimately deteriorate. Molecules constantly jump around and fields from magnetic particles damage adjacent areas on tapes.
Backing up information is extremely important no matter where it resides. Consider the smartphone with the MicroSD card. The phone can be lost or stolen. It can fall into water. However, even electronic solid-state memories have life expectancies like my camera memory card. Some fail prematurely. Same with ubiquitous flash drives. Some memories are consumer grade, designed to last several years; others are commercial grade and cost a large premium, but should be good for ten years or so.
Even experts get surprised. Redundancy is the best way to minimize risk and exposure. Part of a good backup policy says to separate the copies as far as possible. We are reminded of the small company in San Francisco that kept backups on a different floor in the same building. They were lucky, but what if an earthquake had damaged or destroyed the building.
In the mid-1960s, I had a small portable AM radio that operated off household power, 4 NiCad batteries or a solar panel in the handle. Later, I had an exciting assignment responsible for Energy Management at a large manufacturing company with plants all over the United States. We weathered an oil embargo and other engineers and I initiated various projects to test novel new concepts. At least one solar water heater is still operating successfully after 30 years.
Today’s world requires us to finally get serious about replacing fossil fuels with alternatives. There are new innovations and new ways to deliver and manage the growing amount of energy we depend upon. Please share your insight and thoughts.