Lightbulb Black Market

Been some talked about bans on light bulbs here and here. This has to be one of Congress’s dumbest moments, and it’s worth noting it was a GOP congress that did this to us. Thanks guys! CFLs have gotten to the point I am mostly satisfied with the quality of the light, but a big pet peeve of mine is that they take time to warm up, and produce substandard light until they do.

Recently I got CFL versions of this halogen light, which previously hadn’t been available. The light quality is iffy, and the strength is way too low. Fortunately, I think these GU10 halogens aren’t on the ban list. But I am pondering whether they are good enough. My kitchen floods draw 300 watts in their full glory with halogens, and with CFLs they draw a whopping 42 watts. But does it really save energy when you want to leave them on to avoid having to wait for the lights to warm up?

I’ve also wondered how much energy these bulbs really end up saving in the first place, at least in climates where you use a furnace for a good part of the year. Most light bulb energy is lost as heat, but is it really lost if it’s cold enough to run the furnace? I have no doubt they save on electricity, but how much extra are you spending running the heater to make up for the heat not being put out by your lighting system? For much of the year, I think CFLs are just a way to convert electric consumption to gas and oil consumption in home furnaces. Sadly for us power generation is more green than home heating.

I’m generally not too optimistic about the green technology movement. I saw a Toyota ad a few days ago where they wanted people to send in their “green” ideas. One that they were touting was running their regenerative braking system on roller coasters in amusement parks, suggesting it could be used to power the whole park. I’m guessing Toyotas marketing people don’t have much of a grasp on physics, particularly the first and second law of thermodynamics. Nope, won’t power the park. Won’t even be enough to jack the coaster up the chain. That’s not even mentioning that it would probably ruin the entertainment value of the coaster ride. Most green technology is a complete crock, and many fail to appreciate what a bummer thermodynamics is.

44 thoughts on “Lightbulb Black Market”

  1. I can’t really comment on how much more energy is used to make up for heat not generated by the bulbs themselves… But as for this part: “But does it really save energy when you want to leave them on to avoid having to wait for the lights to warm up?”

    Yes, it does save energy. I actually worked this one out a few days back since we’ve been replacing our 100W & 60W bulbs with the 13W CFLs. It costs less than half as much to run a 13W CFL for twice as long as either of the 100W or 60W bulbs.

    It costs me $0.04 to run a 13W CFL for 1 hour a day for 30 days ($0.07 if I run it for 2 hours a day), vs $0.16/month and $0.27/month to run 60W and 100W bulbs for 1 hour a day over the same period.

  2. There is also the issue of power factor. Incandescents operate at parity, while cfl’s are probably somewhere in the neighborhood of 0.8 lag.

  3. The 3 rules of Thermodynamics.

    You can’t win.
    You can’t break even.
    You can’t quit playing the game.

    And to this day, I still have not found a CFL that puts out as good of quality of light as a standard bulb. Close, but that doesn’t work worth a damn when you want to read a book.

    And so far, the lifespan of the CFL’s I’ve had have been the same as a regular bulb. Although dropping a regular bulb doesn’t require Superfund.

  4. The First and Second Laws of Thermodynamics can really be boiled down together into a single word: TANSTAAFL.

    For the floodlight, have you looked at the LED replacements? They’re getting the color quality pretty good now (and continue to improve), and you don’t have the issues with “warm up time” like with CFLs. LEDs are also even more efficient than CFLs. I have an LED bulb in one of the lamps in my study, and it’s certainly better than any CFL I’ve tried even if it’s not as good as an incandescent bulb. It’s easier to find the GU10 LEDs than a regular bulb LED, too.

  5. Dihydrogen monoxide, it was used to spoof people at a green conference as a toxic dangerous substance…

    Me, a cold drink of it, cool swim on a hot day, water is wonderful.

    Point being is the green-nuts are well, nuts.

    CFLs require more energy to produce use more hazardous materials and if the fail more often than common incandescent bulbs are many times more costly to use. Where does all the plastic, semiconductors and the phosphor
    inside go? Never mind the dim and generally off color light.

    when I want light now CFL is not it though LED works for me
    as do Halogen for bright white.


  6. LEDs are where it’s at. They are getting more and more efficient every year. It’d be bad ass to have a light bulb you replace so infrequently you don’t even remember how.

  7. At $50 per, LEDs are not where it’s at. My ceiling above my kitchen would cost $400 to use those.

    Sorry, but I can buy contractor boxes of regular bulbs, have instant light, as well as dim them for less than 1 LED.

  8. The heat from a regular bulb comes in handy ever year when I lower one on an extension cord into the small, dug out space around the well pump’s pipe that goes into the ground. It helps keep the pipe from freezing, and you can see in there if you want to for some reason. It’s a pretty tight space to squeeze in there and wrap heat tape around the pipe or something.

    Kind of similar to one of my super computers. Yeah, it blows out hot air, but it’s in a room that if you keep the door closed it will eventually heat it pretty well, so hey.

  9. I’m surprized you have not run into those free energy people. The ones that believe in perpetual motion and think that laws of thermodynamics are either flawed because they do not allow free energy or a govenment conspiricy so free energy will be supressed.

    But you have to understand that to some people this green energy/going green is a literal religion. I’m surprized they don’t start a church of green.

  10. For much of the year, I think CFLs are just a way to convert electric consumption to gas and oil consumption in home furnaces.

    Nah. CFLs are a way to force you to spend money for one company’s product rather than another’s.

    That’s all the Green Movement has ever been about — Folding Green.

  11. But you have to understand that to some people this green energy/going green is a literal religion. I’m surprized they don’t start a church of green.

    They can’t. Don’t you realize how much of a carbon footprint those buildings would make?

  12. “…Don’t you realize how much of a carbon footprint those buildings would make?”

    I do. But they don’t. Selective attention I would guess. It has been observed before. Remember that climate change concert awhile back? And how big they estimated the carbon footprint to be?

  13. Still need to add to my arsenal of regular bulbs while I still can.

    The LEDs are getting better all the time, and as they proliferate the market, will get cheaper and better every day. I remember buying LED work pen lights for about $30 a pop, and now they give them away on keychains.

    That is an example of the free market working as it should, not being mandated or propped up by taxpayer money. (At least I don’t think so?)

    As for the CFL, I look at the worthless Toyota Prius for comparison. If you take into account the shipping, manufacturing, waste products and toxic materials that come from the battery, and the coal burning to charge the damn thing, a Chevy Suburban likely has a smaller “footprint” than the Prius.

  14. A 100 watt bulb burning for 1 hours puts out less than 400 BTUs in waste heat. Not exactly going to keep you warm unless you live in a closet. And if you live in the South, that’s 400 BTUs more work for your aircon.

    Lifetime energy cost of the Prius versus the Hummer was a junk science report a few years back from some ‘consultants’ that has been discredited. See

    The primary energy sink in a car is the fuel used over decades, not the energy used to make it.

  15. Also, no coal burns to ‘fuel’ a Prius.

    You are correct.

    The electricity fairy shits 110 VAC. Wand size determines amperage.

  16. Actually, I think Ash is right, at least on most Priui. Later models, maybe, had a plug-in charging option. That doesn’t take out the Leaf, Volt, Tesla, etc, though.

  17. At $50 per, LEDs are not where it’s at. My ceiling above my kitchen would cost $400 to use those.

    For equivalent lumens to the one you linked to, you’re probably looking at about a 16W LED (a very rough guesstimate based on the wattage for a 360 lumen LED bulb (8W) and a 900 lumen LED bulb (18W)). At $0.10 per kW-h (what I effectively was charged on my last bill) you would have to save 480kW-h, or 480000W-h to make up the difference in cost of a single bulb. This would take 13333 hours of operation, or 555 days of continuous operation – but that’s just over 1/4 the LED bulb’s lifetime, and over 6 times the halogen bulb’s rated lifetime. The LED bulb is rated for 50000 hours, or nearly 6 years of continuous operation. [(50000hrs) / (24hrs/day) / 365days/year = 5.7years]

    Realistically, you won’t be leaving it on continuously, so it will take a few years to “pay for itself”, but the savings are there. Or, to put it another way, “Cheap shoes are a false economy.”

    Sorry, but I can buy contractor boxes of regular bulbs, have instant light, as well as dim them for less than 1 LED.

    LEDs come on as fast as incandescents, and most of the LED bulbs I’m seeing now are advertised as dimmable. And with that kind of lifetime, you really don’t want to buy contractor boxes – the cost should go down and the quality up significantly by the time you need replacements.

    At this point, LED bulbs have reached the point where light quality or inability to cover the initial cost are really the only arguments left against them. Either one is valid, though both are fading as they continue to get better and cheaper.

  18. A) I was incorrect in my application of snark. The Prius sucks down gasoline just like other cars.

    B) The initial cost is my only hesitation to LED. I didn’t mean to imply that the LED were slow or poor color / light.

    I *LOVE* the idea behind CFLs. I WANT to reduce my energy usage because it saves me money. I keep the air down and put on sweaters when it’s cold, I open windows when it’s warm if I can. I watch the air pressure on my tires to ensure I’m getting good gas mileage and I watch how I drive to stretch my gas dollar.

    If CFL’s worked, I’d swap out every light in my house. They don’t work as advertised. They’re ok for small applications and what I save off of them isn’t worth the hassle.

    Once LEDs come down a bit, I’ll be all over them. There’s no need for legislation to force me to buy them.

  19. We went through this green stuff starting in the Carter administration. Twenty years later, people were removing those defunct solar water heaters from their roofs.

    Deja vu all over again.

  20. I’ve been using the CFL’s for a while now in selected fixtures– those we tend to leave on during the evening and those that are on the circuits I power by generator when the utility feed goes out. Agree that they suck out loud in cold climates, even the ones rated for outdoors. I started stocking up on incandescents when they passed this stupid law. It remains to be seen if I’ll be the user of them or if ebay will be incentive enough to part with them

  21. “We went through this green stuff starting in the Carter administration. Twenty years later, people were removing those defunct solar water heaters from their roofs.

    Deja vu all over again.”

    They still do solar water heaters where I live. They even give you free ones. Then they put a lein on your house. The bastards.

  22. As soon as CFL’s could go from 50-100-150, as well as a dim option I’d be sold on them. 80% of the lights in my home do one or the other. Can’t say I’m excited to give that up.

  23. You can’t buy a Prius from Toyota that plugs into 110v. It’s a hybrid, not an EV.

    And using less imported gas in a hybrid, or even coal for EVs, is still better than funding Islamofascism by sending billions to the Middle East. The wheel to well ratio of an EV fueled by coal is much better than a gas car because of the inherent efficiency of EV’s. If we could improve fleet efficiency by one third, we wouldn’t need Saudi oil.

  24. Ash,

    I know 3 people with Priusii – They get about 43 mpg on average. My GTI can easily get 33 mpg if I baby the pedal (hard to do in such a sporty little car, I admit. I’m averaging 28 mpg because it’s easy to just pass people). I know some diesel VW’s that get just as good gas mileage as the Priuseses without being an anemic ball of suck.

    Now, if hybrids were all that and a bag of chips, you’d see people like me who are frugal buying them up left and right. Just like LED lights, I’ll buy them when the price is right because they will save me money. I don’t give 2 shakes of a rat’s ass about “Mother Earth”. When Gaia stops trying to kill me with gravity, hurricanes, and lightning strikes, I’ll return the favor.

    But my wallet? Oh yeah, I’m ALL about that.

    Banning incandescent lights is naked tyranny. It has the same lack of common sense as banning watering a lawn during a drought. Supply and demand, when left alone by government busybodies, send MUCH more effective signals. When it costs you $750 to water your lawn, you won’t. When you can save $80 a month by switching to more efficient lightbulbs, you will. And those who don’t simply pay the price, literally.

  25. In answer to the question raised above about the light bulbs heating the house, the answer if you have a heat pump is that they still cost you more money. (Fuel oil and natural gas put in too many variables to answer for those – efficiency of the boiler, cost of the fuel, calorific value of the fuel, etc.) The light bulbs put out thermal energy due to resistance heating, which is not nearly as efficient per BTU as a heat pump.

    Thermodynamics strikes again!

  26. I’ll take Robb’s fuel economy one further. My wife drives a Corolla S. Great car, BTW. 43 mpg on the highway, standard gas engine. And the battery doesn’t cost thousands of dollars, and I can pick one up at any parts house and replace it myself.

  27. Ash,
    Be very careful about citing that Pac Institute report. Alarm bells should be ringing when a non-peer reviewed report warns you about not trusting non-peer reviewed reports. You’re correct that for conventional cars the majority of energy is consumed in fuel, that report includes absolutely no data that this is the case for non-conventional vehicles.

    While the Hummer report is pretty laughable, it is non-obvious that a electric or plug-in hybrid actually produces less CO2 than a conventional compact car.

    It is also very important to note that CO2 is only one of many possible measures of environmental impact, the disposal of batteries is the obvious one. A very well done study that I’ve seen suggests that the Chinese gov’t push for electric cars will actually increase heavy particulate pollution (a far more serious problem in China than CO2), while not reducing CO2 usage.

  28. When my parents moved me to southern FL in1956, when I was five years old, I saw solar water heaters being ripped off of people’s roofs and put out by the street. I later learned that FP&L had paid for that, there being no match for electric living.

    I hate the incomplete spectrum emitted by fluorescent lights with a violent passion, a passion not white-hot, like an incandescent light bulb, but ultraviolet-hot. Man was meant (evolved) to live in daylight, the mix of wavelengths emitted by the Sun.

    Making something hot enough to emulate that is the best way to imitate that.

  29. P.s. Some of my autistic acquaintances on the net are even more exercised about this. These are the folks who can see, and be upset by, the flicker in the fluorescent lamps. Curiously, most of them seem to vote for politicians who do this to them. Hey, auties, like sojers and Marines, are slow to grow up.

  30. Just to add to Robb’s fuel economy statement, it’s always worth remembering that those pesky laws of physics strike again. Moving mass X from point A to point B by route Y under weather conditions Z will always require the same amount of energy. The only way to change that energy requirement is to change one of the variables – mass, route, or weather conditions (and good luck controlling the weather). This is the floor – you can’t do it with any less energy, period.

    Where hybrids noticeably increase fuel economy is in stop-and-go traffic, where the engine can stop running when the vehicle isn’t moving – the computer controls the engine so you’re not burning more energy in fuel than you’re consuming with the car’s “extras” (electronics, lights, etc.). A non-hybrid at rest has to idle at a minimum speed and use a certain amount of fuel to do so regardless of how much electrical energy the engine has to generate, and any excess energy contained in that fuel is wasted. You get a similar effect from downhill driving, with the added bonus that the hybrid will collect some energy from gravity via regenerative braking, but on a round trip you usually (but not always) lose this bonus energy again when going back up that hill.

    The difference between a hybrid and a conventional car is in what is wasted when you’re not moving. Efficiency while moving at normal speeds is about equal between a hybrid and a modern conventional car of similar size.

    What all this boils down to is that how much benefit you gain from driving a hybrid essentially depends on where you live, based on local terrain and traffic patterns. If your normal driving uses routes with good traffic flow, you won’t see much – if any – improvement over a modern conventional car of similar size. If you have to deal with significant stop-and-go traffic on a regular basis, you will see a noticeable and possibly significant increase in fuel economy with a hybrid simply because you’re running the engine less.

  31. The other angle on efficiency is that internal combustion engines using gasoline are typically only ~20% efficient. EV efficiency is closer to 90%. So there are plenty of opportunities to migrate some vehicle use to EV, coal notwithstanding, because it is a far more efficient use of that same energy to get from A to B.

    Average US passenger car efficiency is barely over 20mpg, so hybrids like the Prius at close to 50mpg are still the benchmark for energy security if we want to reduce oil importa. Diesel is a non-starter in the US.

  32. Most coal plants, IIRC, are about 80% efficient. You have to take that into account too. Plus, there’s also a charge efficiency on the batteries.

  33. The nice thing about an EV is when you’re making a cross country drive, it only takes about 4 minutes to completely recharge your batteries at any fuel statio…oh…. wait.

    Now, I have a 27 mile commute to work. The range of most EV’s would make a commuter car worthwhile for me. Alas, they are still too damned expensive and I won’t own anything by Government Motors ever again.

    EV’s also can have hella-torque. If there was a cost effective way of swapping out my engine in the GTI with an electric motor, I’d love to do it because the damned thing would be even faster.

    Make no mistake about it – the electricity required to be shat from the Electric Fairy has a smaller footprint than the amount of gasoline that needs to be burned to move a vehicle the same distance. Totally agreed there. The ‘switch’ to EV’s though will put a strain on our already shaky electrical distribution system. We need more nuke plants to satisfy the needs the EVs will require, plus more and more refuelling stations will need to have stations for the Joule-Lovers AS WELL as quick charging capabilities.

    The best way to get this is to let the free market handle it. Government mandated impossibilities will only strangle innovation and drive costs sky high.

  34. Average US passenger car efficiency is barely over 20mpg, so hybrids like the Prius at close to 50mpg are still the benchmark for energy security if we want to reduce oil importa.

    Apples to oranges, there. “Average US passenger car efficiency” includes vehicles significantly larger and/or heavier than the Prius (the Camry, for instance). To get a true idea of what the “benchmark” is, you have to compare similar vehicles – a Prius to a Corolla, for example. People (like me) who are driving around 16 year old cars are likely doing so because they can’t afford a newer car – and therefore are probably not be able to switch to a hybrid no matter how much more efficient it is.

    The higher cost of a Prius when compared to a similar sized conventional car just makes that worse, and – keeping in mind what I pointed out about how local conditions effect the difference in fuel economy – some people may never be able to make up that cost difference within the time they own the car.

  35. Not to mention a lot of electric-car testing always seems to be done in sunny California or similar. Let’s see how battery cars do at 0 degrees every day in the winter.

  36. Ash,
    Yes, in general EV motors are more efficient, but electricity is not a SOURCE of power, it is merely a means of transporting and storing it. The thermodynamic efficiency of the power plant is what we need to look at.

    Also, it is worth noting that vehicles are fundamentally constrained by weight and space, and here is where carbon fuels shine. The energy density (measured in Joules/kg or Joules / cubic meter) of gasoline is a full order of magnitude higher than hydrogen fuel cells, which themselves are much more dense than batteries.

    It is important to distinguish between pure hybrids and electric vehicles, but you are quite correct:

  37. “Most coal plants, IIRC, are about 80% efficient.”

    Incorrect. Fossil fuel power plants are about 35-45% efficient. Combined cycle power plants (which use part of the waste heat for heating) are about 60-65% efficient. Nuclear power plants are around 30-35% efficient. Source: myself, I work in the power generation industry.

    Then there is the 98-99% efficiency of uping the voltage for distribution. Another 98-99% efficiency for distribution. Another 98-99% efficiency for decreasing the voltage for customer use. Another 90-95% efficiency for for converting the AC to DC for the battery charge. And another 97-99% efficiency from the battery bleeding off charge. Then you have the 90% efficiency of the electric motors and you get somewhere between 25 and 37% overall energy efficiency for an electric vehicle. This is great in stop and go sping or fall (i.e. no AC) traffic. However, it compares poorly to a conventional gas powered vehicle for highway driving or winter driving (that waste engine heat can now be used for something, upping the efficiency) or summer driving with the AC, since these increased loads are not optimumly performed by an electric engine (i.e. now the AC needs a separate motor to turn the compressor, whereas before it was belted to the driveshaft).

    In a nutshell, where EV fanatics go wrong is in thinking that the vehicle is better than a gas vehicle. For certain situations, it is. For others it is not. And for others it is downright horrible. The goal of every consumer then is to figure out which situations are most likely to be encountered and select the vehicle best suited to their purposes. For the vast majority of people in the US that have cars, the best choice will be for at least one of them to be gas powered.

  38. Thanks Reputo. Don’t know where I remembered that 80% number from, but given that it’s much lower, it makes EV look even worse.

  39. Ash: That “90%” efficiency is only measured at the electric motor arbor.

    Efficiency goes way down when you include power transmission line losses, and the extreme power to weight inefficiency of even Lithium Iron Phosphate cells.

    After all is said and done, you would get less pollution to miles by putting in a coal-fired steam engine with a catalytic stack.

    IC engined cars outshine EVs when it comes to power to weight. Gasoline is an incredibly concentrated fuel source, and is vastly lighter than a stack of LiFePO4 batteries delivering the same watt-hours.

  40. Thanks for the link to 1000Bulbs! I’m a fiend for bright light and that’s just the ticket for me and my upcoming 100 watt buying spree…although rather than purchasing a lifetime supply of the little bulbs perhaps I should just invest in new lamps and some of those 1500 watt dealies…I reckon those would be pretty sweet though they don’t seem to list lumen outputs for that power level. Just another wonderful example of the nature of prohibition!

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