Several governments, including the Government of Canada, are talking about mandating the use of high-efficiency lighting. This is being reported by news outlets as mandating compact flourescent lights (CFLs) over incandescent lights.
I haven't read any of the proposed legislation, but I trust that the new laws mandate a certain level of efficiency instead of a particular technology, because it would be a mistake to mandate the use of compact flourescent bulbs. There are many unresolved issues surrounding these lamps:
- CFLs contain mercury. While it is true that they potentially reduce mercury emissions by reducing the demand for electricity from coal-fired generators, not all electricity is generated from coal, and coal-fired plants are reducing their mercury emissions. Because CFLs contain mercury, they must not be placed in ordinary household garbage, and precautions must be taken if a bulb breaks. Many consumers do not know how to handle disposal or breakage safely.
- There are a number of reports of fires caused by CFLs near the end of their life. Consumers have been advised to discard CFLs if they notice browning at the base of the bulb. However, this reduced the useful life of the bulb (therefore increasing the cost) and most consumers will not inspect bulbs that are operating normally.
- CFLs produce ultraviolet light, which is converted to visible light by a phosphor coating. Some ultraviolet light is released from the bulb, but little information is being made available about the amount of UV light released by a CFL.
- CFLs produce less light as they age.
- CFLs are not well-suited for use in areas where they are turned on and off frequently.
I'm not saying that we should avoid compact flourescent lamps and stick soley to incandescent lighting, but there are some questions and concerns being raised about CFLs. We must continue to research alternative light designs, including high-efficiency incandescents (which are expected to reach CFL efficiency levels in the next few years using nanotech fabrication techniques) and light emitting diodes (which are very efficient but not yet competitively priced), and most importantly, any new legislation must not require the use of CFLs but leave the door open for all high-efficiency lighting technologies.
There is anothewr issue with CFLs. apart from the energy required to make them, they are reputed to have a very low power factor (I haven't measured any myself - yet) of the order of 0.5. You will remember from basic electrical theory that in a DC cct, power=VxA but in an AC cct power =VxAxpf. So an incandescent lamp using 15 watts of power at 240 volts at pf of 1 will be taking about 62mA. At a pf of 0.5, it will be takin g 125mA. Not much for one lamp, but consider a neighbourhood usin g (say, 10,000 of those lamps. Then the current taken will be 1,250 amps, as opposed to 625. This is real current, so power cables have to be upgraded, and so the losses in those cable increases. Who will pay for those losses? Eventually the consumer!. Now of course a 15W cfl produces about the same light as a 100W incandescent, so there is a saving in power, and a reduction in current - but not as much as you might suppose.
I was lucky that I was home two nights ago, as one of my CFL bulbs in my bedroom ceiling fan had white "clouds" of smoke billowing out of it, accompanied by a sizzling sound and a horrid odor. I shut off the power and removed the bulb once it cooled. The heat was so intense that it scorched the socket in the lamp, and the ceramic base on the bulb. It took several hours to get rid of the odor. I am terrified of these bulbs now. Are there enough concerned citizens to force the government to delay the upcoming mandatory use of them?
About Chris Tyler
I am a Christian, college professor, computer programmer, system administrator, author, and consultant. I am also an Industrial Research Chair with a focus on Linux on 64-bit ARM enterprise systems.