By Staff Writer Brendan Pringle.
After Thomas Edison invented the incandescent light bulb over a hundred years ago, the lighting industry seemed to putter out for decades. Many modern architects continue to prefer incandescent bulbs for their clarity and natural light quality, believing that nothing is as good as the original. For years, the world nearly lost hope in the prospect of energy-efficient lighting with the failure of early energy-efficient lighting.
Well, after a century, hope has finally returned in the form of three innovations (and cool-sounding acronymns)—CFLs, LEDs, and ESL™. Welcome to the future.
1. CFLs (Compact Fluorescent Lamps)
Throughout the years, CFLs have had only intermittent bursts of success while attempting to compete with incandescents. CFLs have struggled in the lighting market for a couple decades now, earning a bad rep for unreliability and for throwing out a “dim, antiseptic light.”
Amidst years of research and development, however, CFLs have become the most cost-effective solution for homeowners.
An Energy Star Qualified CFL can cut $30 off the electricity bill during its lifetime according to the California Energy Commission. CFLs use up to 75% less energy than incandescents and last about 10 times longer. A typical incandescent burns out after 1000 hours, while CFLs can last 10,000 hours or more.
Pacific Gas & Electric Co. has so much faith in this technology that it has even sponsored an on-going instant rebate program to encourage people to replace their incandescent bulbs with CFLs. This incentive has transformed these new bulbs into a mainstream phenomenon in various areas. As Pismo Beach True Value Assistant Manager Rudy Natoli observes, “We’ve undoubtedly seen an increase in CFL purchases as a direct result of this program. They have become an extremely popular impulse item.”
Available in all different shapes and spirals, CFLs produce light by directing electricity through a gas charged tube. This produces an invisible UV light through chemical reaction. The UV rays are transformed into white light by the white coating inside the bulb.
At the same time, CFLs still pose a minute environmental hazard. In every CFL, there is a small amount of mercury vapor (about 1/100 of that which is in a thermometer) that is released when the bulb breaks. The worry is that this mercury will accumulate in our landfills and our groundwater, as most bulbs are improperly disposed of. Also, although the quality of light in CFLs has come close, it has yet to match that of incandescents.
LEDs have only recently been highlighted as a versatile lighting source. Originally, LEDs were only of the green, red, and yellow varieties. This, of course, was fine for scoreboards, traffic lights, and Christmas lights, but it was only the beginning.
White LEDs suddenly took center stage, as audiences across the world marveled at its potential. Now, the beauty of LEDs can be observed everywhere from the dazzling glow of the New Years Eve Ball in Times Square to the brilliant ceiling of the Buckingham Palace. LEDs can throw twice the brightness of typical LEDs for a mere 50,000-plus hour lifespan.
The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that if LEDs take off, United States lighting costs could be reduced by 29% by the year 2020, and by 50% in the next 20+ years. For the environment, this could mean a 28 million metric ton reduction in carbon emissions every year.
While there aren’t any direct environmental concerns with LEDs, price seems to be a large obstacle facing the consumer market. Moreover, when the energy needed to create and power an LED was observed, LED lamps were about as efficient as CFLs, and much more expensive.
LEDs are an ideal replacement in many specialized “niche” areas, such as replacements for neon signs where crisp, bright colors are needed, or in highly flammable areas where a hot incandescent would be dangerous.
But, while experts reason that the price of LEDs are likely to decrease 10% or more a year, LEDs will probably not be brightening up our houses any time in the near future. It will be a couple years until incandescent replacements will even hit the market. In the meantime, buy an LED flashlight to whet your appetite.
While CFLs and LEDs have already become household names, ESL™ technology has only recently emerged. Yet this simple technology has the potential to sweep away the entire lighting market.
According to Vu1, a pioneering ESL™ company, ESL™ technology “uses accelerated electrons to stimulate phosphor and create light, making the surface of the bulb ‘glow.’” The three phosphors have different spectrum colors to produce a natural, full-spectrum light.
Architects around the world are going to have to think twice before choosing another incandescent. ESL™ technology actually fits perfectly into an incandescent bulb shape, making it more aesthetically appealing than both CFLs and LEDs, and will retail for about the cost of a reflective CFL. In fact, the cost to produce Vu1 is much less than either of its predecessors.
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By abandoning the homely comforts of our incandescent bulbs and substituting them for these energy-efficient (and increasingly cost-effective) solutions, we can go green and decimate our energy bills, without sacrificing our standard of living.
Sounds like a bright idea to me.