If energy needs to be saved, there are good ways to do it.
                                                               Government product regulation is not one of them

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Dim World of Light Bulb Politics


image  Off Center Views

From the Huffington Post today May 7, article by David Jenkins

The Dim World of Light Bulb Politics

In 2007, major lighting manufacturers worked with Congress to craft new energy efficiency standards for light bulbs.
They were worried that states would adopt 50 separate standards and they knew that a 40-year old technology existed to make better incandescent light bulbs -- ones that were 28 percent more efficient and emitted less waste heat.

Why didn't these manufacturers use this technology before? In their minds, there was no financially compelling reason to switch. Consumers were buying bulbs with the old technology.

When widespread concern about energy waste caused states to start passing light bulb efficiency standards, the manufacturers sought a uniform national standard and got it. The provision was not controversial. It passed with an overwhelming bi-partisan majority and was promptly signed into law by President George W. Bush.

The manufacturers then spent millions of dollars retooling their operations to produce the new, improved incandescent bulbs, which produce exactly the same lighting qualities as the old bulbs, look the same, dim the same, last longer, save energy, and provide a better value for consumers.

Sounds pretty good, huh? Thomas Edison would have been pleased.

It was viewed in a different light by those living in the alternate universe of libertarian radicalism, however. Last year, in advance of the January 2012 start date for standards to take effect, they spread the false rumor that the 100-watt incandescent bulb was being banned and that people would be forced to switch to compact fluorescent bulbs. They even snookered some reputable media outlets.

Four months after the deadline has come and gone, and the new incandescent bulbs are on the shelves at their local Home Depot, these light bulb cranks continue to spread lies about a supposed bulb ban. Some in Congress do so, even after manufacturers have shown them that the new incandescent bulbs are identical in form and function to the old bulbs. No squiggly tubes, no weird color hues, no dim start-up, no dimming problems, no mercury, same amount and quality of light, but using just 72 watts of electricity instead of 100.

These radicals have latched onto light bulb and appliance efficiency standards as a symbol of government overreach. They claim such standards limit consumer choice.

Really, this is the best example they can come up with? The light bulb standards are the same type of common-sense efficiency benchmarks President Ronald Reagan signed into law for refrigerators, fluorescent lighting ballasts, and other appliances in the 1980s. How many people are wandering around their local appliance dealer pining for inefficient, Jimmy Carter-era refrigerators?

Still, even as you read this, we have lawmakers like Congressman Michael Burgess (R-TX) and Senator Mike Enzi (R-WY) working to prohibit enforcing the law that established these lighting standards. They plan to offer amendments to upcoming appropriations bills that would do just that.

Apparently, Burgess, Enzi and others on this crusade are not concerned about the investments lighting manufacturers made in good faith over the past five years.

Does it matter to them that shady foreign manufacturers would exploit the loophole to flood the market with cheaply made, unreliable, energy-wasting bulbs?

Does it matter to them that doing favors for foreign fly-by-nights could result in fewer jobs for Americans who make components for the new bulbs?

Does it matter to them that shoddy foreign bulbs, which might cost 50 cents less than the high-quality American bulbs, would cost Americans more because of higher energy bills and shorter bulb life?

Perhaps their whacky Ayn Rand idolatry is more important to them than jobs, investments, and energy savings. In the name of libertarian dogma, they seek to chain Americans to inferior products and retard technological progress.

The real advance for freedom, prosperity, and consumer choice can be found in the innovative, solution-oriented actions of the major lighting manufacturers in 2007. By helping craft these new standards and getting better technology to the market, Americans can light their world for less money, improve our nation's energy position, and be better stewards of our precious natural resources.

We should dub the new, improved incandescent light bulbs "Freedom Bulbs" in honor of the entrepreneurial spirit and foresight that led to their development.

Yet the lighting manufacturers are not resting on their laurels. In a few years, the energy sipping, but costly, LED bulbs that are showing up on store shelves in increasing numbers will become much more affordable. These lights produce the same quality and amount of light as the old 100-watt bulbs but use less than 20 watts of electricity.

That is some serious, no-compromise, insurance against rising electricity costs.

It's practical conservatism at its best. As the great conservative author and theorist Russell Kirk once wrote: "There is nothing more conservative than conservation."

He was right. Conservation is smart, prudent and responsible. It safeguards the future of our children and grandchildren.

Kirk, whom Reagan referred to as "the prophet of American conservatism," also wisely pointed out that with freedom comes responsibility. Kirk said:

"Every right is married to a duty, every freedom owes a corresponding responsibility."

A radicalism that peddles freedom without responsibility and revels in the political promotion of carefree wastefulness is most certainly not conservative.

Of course, our government needs to be efficiently effective and we must prevent excessive bureaucracy and government overreach. Neither of those concerns is relevant, however, to common-sense energy efficiency standards, which drive necessary progress using the power of free markets.

Now that everyone can see that rumors of the incandescent bulb's demise were greatly exaggerated, it is time to let our elected officials know that dim-witted efforts to roll back or impede enforcement of the new lighting standards will carry a political price.

If our elected officials are willing to mislead the public and turn their backs on such easy energy savings, they are probably not capable of leading us to a brighter future.


Well he got the title right..
"The Dim World of Light Bulb Politics"!

This article is interesting in how it runs through the supposed advantages of regulations, and how manufacturers might "need them" compared to free market alternatives.
While the arguments are answered in the "Deception" rundown on this blog, an appropriate reply here:

1. About manufacturers:

Why did they welcome the regulations on simple incandescent bulbs?
Why would anyone welcome regulations on what they can or cannot make? ;-)
Of course, it's because of Big Profits from the ban of anyone else making the popular cheap patent-expired light bulbs, and the enforced replacement with their more profitable alternative offerings.

This is well documented by Michael Leahy and Howard Brandston in their 2011 e-book "I Light Bulb". Congress lighting consultant Brandston was there personally, in political meetings leading up to the 2007 legislation
(edited excerpts):

"The NEMA Lamp Subcommittee was composed of General Electric, Osram Sylvania, and Philips, the same industrial giants who formed the old Phoebus Cartel (limiting lightbulb lifespans) back in 1924....conducting its own research and internal hearings that culminated in a recommendation to ban the incandescent light bulb... When I asked NEMA for help in fighting the incandescent light ban, I was politely told that they could not be involved in any research program like that"

2. The supposition that manufacturers "won't make energy saving bulbs unless forced by regulation".

First of all, energy saving is only one aspect of what makes a "good" light bulb.
There are many others, and forcing energy saving mandates on a given product changes it's characteristics, whether Buildings, Cars, Washing Machines or Light Bulbs.

The touted 2012 Halogen type replacement incandescents are still different in running whiter and hotter, and are not popular either with politicians or consumers, in costing much more for marginal savings (no "Halogen" replacement programs, like with CFLs in California, Ohio, Washington etc).
Contrary to what the the article author says, those replacements, typicaly 20-22 lumen per Watt, will also be banned anyway in phase 2 of EISA after 2014, on the 45 lumen per Watt end regulation: http://ceolas.net/#li01inx
So yes it is a "ban", and effectively on incandescent technology for ordinary usage.
The major manufacturers who sought and welcomed the ban would be unlikely to improve incandescents anyway, given the more profitable alternatives.

CFLs, LEDs etc were invented in the presence - not the absence - of cheap incandescent competition.
Energy saving products that people want have always been made and sold - since energy saving is indeed a desirable quality.

"Expensive to buy but cheap in the long run?"
Long lasting expensive woollen coats, batteries (Energizer bunnies!), washing up liquids etc are all made, sold, and properly marketed, without the makers lobbying regulators for easier bans on cheap alternatives.

Besides, if bulbs really had to be targeted - they obviously don't - then helping new inventions to the market to increase competition (firstly),
or taxation-subsidies that taxed incandescents and helped lower the price on CFLs LEDs (secondly),
would equilibrate the market and keep choice - again without regulatory bans.

3. The overall issue is to Save Energy:

No-one welcomes the waste of energy.
However, the personal choice of a product to use is hardly a "waste" of energy (or electricity), compared to unncessarily leaving it on.

Light bulbs don't burn coal, and they don't realease any CO2 gas.
Power plants might - and might not.
Where there is a problem - Deal with the problem.
As for coal plants, they anyway effectively burn the same coal whether your bulb is on or off, given how slow base-loading coal plants that are calibrated for higher day use are hardly turned down at night.

As the referenced Dept of Energy's own stats and surveys show, only around 1% of grid electricity is saved from a switchover, and that is still not taking into account the higher lifecycle (manufacture, transport, recycling) energy use of CFLs and LEDs.

Yes, individual consumers can make savings in replacing some bulbs - and why not - that is a freedom of choice in terms of the different advantages that different bulbs have for different uses.

But society laws, even when seen necessary to save energy, should be based on society energy savings.
And for society, there are greater, more relevant, and more justifiable electricity savings from electricity generation, grid distribution, and alternative consumption based measures - than from worrying about what light bulb Johnny is using in his living room at home!


jenny houghton said...

Ironic the title Dim World, when we know the dim bulbs that the article author wants to push!

Anonymous said...

About Edison in article, I don't thinks he would be happy to see his work banned, to necessitate "improvement" to it :-)


Anonymous said...

They say that light bulbs are not important. So why were they banned then, even if it was wrong? :-)

Anonymous said...

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lvFs9N_xeK4 planned obsolexcence: the lightbulb conspiracy

not sure if you've seen this - it's a good story

Lighthouse said...

Re you tube link, yes thanks
there are a couple of documentaries around now on a similar theme, hoping to do a post soon on them