Verde Laguna: Lighting the way to energy efficiency

When you read that, starting Jan. 1, the 100-watt bulb is fading away due to its inefficiencies, you may think, "there they go again, now Congress wants to dictate which light bulb I can use."

The answer is yes and no.

In 2007, President George W. Bush signed the "Federal Energy Independence Act" to reduce energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. The act requires new bulbs to use 20% to 30% less energy beginning in 2012, starting with the 100-watt bulb, and to continue with the 75, 60 and 40 watt bulbs, respectively, by 2014.

After all, what is taking place is the implementation of new energy efficiency for incandescent bulbs that will save consumers money by replacing the least efficient incandescent bulbs with more efficient ones. In fact, by enacting the standard one year earlier, California avoids the sale of 10.5 million inefficient 100-watt bulbs, which would cost consumers $35.6 million in higher electricity bills, according to Pacific Gas & Electric.

"If every American home replaced just one light with a light that's earned the Energy Star, we would save enough energy to light 3 million homes per year, save about $600 million in annual energy costs, and prevent a billion pounds of GHG emissions per year, equivalent to those from about 800,000 cars," according to Source Energy Star

So far, commercial practices are guided by the premise that we can stay the way we are, and live the way we have because somebody else is going to pay for pollution and its effects.

Relax. The new standard does not affect the sale of light bulbs already on store shelves, and you don't have to go around the house changing light bulbs. The only difference is that the new bulbs will use less energy and cost less money to operate while delivering the same amount of light. Meaning that the new 72-watt incandescent will put out the 1,600 to 1,700 lumens that you are used seeing on the traditional 100-watt bulb. Also starting this year, all light bulbs are required to have new labels to reflect this change.

Now you might choose more efficient lighting by replacing the old incandescent with a 23- to 27-watt compact fluorescent bulb (CFL) that provides the same amount of light as the traditional 100-w while consuming about 75% less energy. This bulb today offers a wide range of variety when talking about color, but look for a Kelvin temperature range close to 3,000 for that warm feeling tone of the incandescent.

The market today offers even a better technology with the light emitting diodes (LED) that uses a semiconductor as its light source, instead of the old tungsten filament that must be heated to extreme temperature before it glows. By doing this, the incandescent bulb consumed 90% of the power on heat rather than on visible light, becoming the icon of the inefficiencies. LEDs are basically more efficient, with a warmer range more pleasant to the eyes and last up to five times longer than CFLs. And despite the high up-front price, LEDs are popping up everywhere from traffic lights to laptop screens where efficiency and durability are most valued.

Unfortunately the best alternatives cost more upfront. CFLs may cost up to six times a standard bulb, but use about 75% less energy and last five years instead of a few months; what means that you can estimate a 12% overall savings depending on your cost of electricity. LEDs promise huge reductions in energy consumption and carbon emissions. The Department of Energy estimates that switching the 22% of U.S. electricity consumption for lighting to this technology can result in 25% overall savings.

Unlike renewable energy, efficiency is not a source of energy supply. However it may provide similar benefits. Furthermore the two combined provide a path for a sustainable energy future.

It may interest you that countries such as Brazil in 2005, the European Union and Australia in 2009 passed a more stringent measure that prohibits the sale of incandescent for general lighting, and that the list of countries around the world to encourage a more energy efficient lighting standard includes Argentina, Russia and Canada, scheduled for a phase-out in 2012.

Thomas Edison may be turning over in his grave, but after 130 years we can say that the old-fashioned light bulb had a good run.

GUSTAVO GRAD is a Laguna Beach resident and certified sustainable building advisor. He can be reached at

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