Why Politicians Forcing People To Change Lightbulbs Is A Bad Idea

from the taking-away-natural-incentives dept

Earlier this month, we pointed out that Ireland had joined Australia in setting a date for banning incandescent lightbulbs. There had been talk about the US following suit, and now it (almost) has, approving legislation that would phase out inefficient bulbs by 2012, such as the incandescents that most people still use. Once again, though, we have to point out how counterproductive a move like this seems. Already, more and more people were moving to more efficient bulbs naturally, as they realized how much money they actually saved with them. For those who complained about the type of light given off by the fluorescents, that just gave more incentives for the makers of CFLs to make the light better match incandescent bulbs. The competition also gave more incentives to make CFLs cheaper and even more efficient, as well as coming up with ways to make the (already seriously overhyped) worries about mercury, less of an issue. However, if politicians take away the competition from incandescents, it suddenly gives the makers of CFLs a lot less incentive to come up with these kinds of innovations and breakthroughs.

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Comments on “Why Politicians Forcing People To Change Lightbulbs Is A Bad Idea”

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bah says:

The newest CFLs still suck – a very harsh light that’s still off-colored … neither tungsten-orange nor old-flourescent green, but still unpleasant and eyestrain-inducing. Flourescent in any form has a LONG ways to go to match a simple tungsten bulb. I don’t know what the fix is, but the current garbage CFLs are not it. Put a CFL in my bedroom or reading room lamp? I doubt it.

duh says:

Re: Re: harsh CFLs

I’d be interested in knowing what you use. I got the more expensive “daylight balanced” ones. They do take a fraction of a second to come on, and then ramp up to full brightness after maybe 30-60 seconds. Compared to a similar rated-output-wattage tungesten, the CFLs were brighter and of a different color (yeah my tungstens are GE Reveal “Daylight” bulbs too). Over six months, I could still see the difference with the CFLs, to me it seemed a very harsh light. Are CFLs dimmable, maybe that’s part of the problem… I don’t have dimmer switches for most lights anyway (renter, beggers can’t always be choosers, although I’ve replaced wall switches before *grin*)


tony says:

Re: Re: Re: harsh CFLs

Well there’s your problem. You can’t expect daylight balanced bulbs to be the same color as incandescent bulbs. They are a harsh cold blue color. They’re not really suitable for normal indoor applications in my opinion.

Also, I forgot to mention earlier; Even if the color were slightly different, and it’s not, I could live with it considering it brought my $180 electric bill down to $80 my first FULL billing cycle of using them. (there were a lot of lights in that apartment).

ehrichweiss says:

Re: Re: Re: harsh CFLs

Fluorescent lights aren’t *normally* dimmable because they don’t work the same way that incandescent lights do. There is a company that created a dimmer for fluorescents that uses a method of slowing down the number of “charges” that cause light in the fluorescent light bulbs so that instead of 22,000 per sec it can be as low as 5,000 per sec(I’m waaay off on these numbers I think so don’t quote me here)..the fewer the charges, the less light produced.

Tony says:

Re: Re: Re:

Damn it Mike, always stealing my thunder! 😉

I was just about to say the same thing. I’ve been using all CFLs for a couple of years now. The old ones did suck but I currently use a combination of GE and Sylvania and both give off light that is the same as an incandescent as far as I can tell. And as for the split second to turn on; the 21watt (100 watt equiv) bulbs are instantaneous. the lower wattage bulbs take a bit to turn on and warm up, but that’s negligible.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Actually, I haven’t seen that. I’ve switched almost entirely to CFL’s and I don’t notice the difference at all. About the *only* thing I now notice is that the CFLs take a split second longer to turn on.

I’ve tried various CFL’s and there is a significant difference between the light from the CFL’s and standard incadesant. If you’re not noticing any difference I’d love to know what brand you are using because it’s not any of the six brands I’ve tried.

Jimmy the Geek says:

Incorrect assumption.

The assumption is once the government steps in and makes the sale of incandescents illegal, then that will prevent all innovation in light bulbs from happening.

This is is 180 degrees wrong. Once alternative lighting is only competing against other alternative lighting, then innovation and competition to come out on top of the new market will drive technological progress like nothing you have ever seen before.

The same thing would happen if world wide we instituted a ban on any passenger vehical that got less than 50 mpg. Sure we would lose a few existing car companies, but thousands of new car companies would form and come up with a ten thousand innovative new designs.

The only people complaining are the ones that are comfortable with the existing status quo.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Incorrect assumption.

That’s a stupid analogy.

There is no way thousands of car companies could form. For one, it costs at least $60 million to get a car crash certified, and that doesn’t include all of the emissions testing necessary… And, secondly, the DoT requires $500 million of liability insurance per manufacturer.

Both of those are HUGE barriers to entry, and there are plenty of others (and more coming, like mandatory stability control and pedestrian safety) with no exceptions for small production volumes. All of which explains why there are few small, low production, independent manufacturers in the US.

Back on topic, it’s likely the same situation exists with regards to CFLs. This legislation is much more likely to benefit a few incumbents rather than create a real competitive market.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Incorrect assumption.

The assumption is once the government steps in and makes the sale of incandescents illegal, then that will prevent all innovation in light bulbs from happening.

Any time the government steps in and says yes or no about something in a functioning industry it creates big problems. The free market will decide when incandescent bulbs are no longer viable.

Theo says:

My oven

What happens with my oven and fridge? I can’t use CFLs in there. What about all my outdoor fixtures that can’t use halogens without melting – it’s too cold here in the winter for CFLs to work? Yeah, I probably could Google this or read one of the linked articles and maybe find the answer, but I don’t really care. The bulbs will either be there for me or they won’t so reading about it now doesn’t matter.

some other guy says:

Re: My oven

Oven: Since the purpose of an oven is to get hot anyway, I expect that inefficiently converting electricity into heat inside one for a bit of light to see you roast by will be ones of the places that incandescents will be allowed.

Fridge: LEDs – bad idea to put a light-source that relies on heating a bit of metal to thousands of degrees inside a fridge anyway. (even if the light is only a really low-wattage one)

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

If they want to help they should just start working on converting all street lights and and gov operated building parking lot ect to cut back on the electricity used. How much energy is lost lighting the roads of the us?

For just a few dollars more per street light they could each have their own solar pack and not touch the grid unless the sun has not been out in a long time.

Vincent Clement says:

Re: Re: Re:

More traffic lights than street lights? I guess it depends on where you live. The replacement of incandescent bulbs in traffic lights had more to do with maintenance (or lack of maintenance) and less to do with reducing electricity consumption.

Toronto Hydro is conducting some real-life testing of street lamp alternatives.

Vincent Clement says:

Re: Re:

They could go one more step and reduce the number of street lights. I remember at one time that the highways around Toronto used to have lighted overhead signs. But with the advent of highly-reflective materials, the lights were dropped.

I live at the corner of two side streets and there are at least five street lights within a 100 feet. We rarely ever need a light in the backyard. They could remove two or three of those street lights with no impact on safety.

Thom says:


We have seven varieties of CFL in our house, each purchased at a different place or time during the past year.

In my dad’s bedroom are five 60w equivalent CFLs meant for ceiling light fixtures – they come on so dim that you can barely find your way around the room and it takes five minutes for them to reach full brightness. They produce a dull yellow light until fully on and a slightly yellow light thereafter.

In my kitchen light are five spiral 60w eq. CFLs. They come on at probably 80 percent brightness and take around a minute to reach full brightness. I can’t distinquish them from incandescent and my digital camera has to be set for incandescent light to keep the photos from discoloring.

In my bedroom are four 100w eq. spiral CFLs. They come on at around 60 percent brightness and reach 100 percent within about one minute. I tend to think these are a little whiter(bluer?) than incandescent but my mom came in and commented on my yellowish skin. Liver problems or jaundice? No, because stepping into the hall and under regular incandescent bulbs I looked normal. Camera still takes best pics when set for incandescent light though so they are close.

In my painting studio I have three banks of 100W eq. spiral CFLs. One contains 3500K bulbs, one 5000K and the last 6500K for a range of lighting conditions from warm sun to cool shade, direct to indirect, yellowish to distinctly blue. They also take about a minute to reach full brightness. What a blast seeing how different things look under different bulbs.

Scattered about through other lights are assorted brands of CFLs, mostly 60w eq spirals. Color varies greatly as does startup time. Lifetime of two or three brands were measured in minutes to an hour. Others have been going strong for months.

What it all comes down to is the particular bulb you’re using. If you don’t like one brand, wattage, or color temp you can probably find one that you do. Hopefully CFLs in general will start to meet the claimed lifetime, turn on faster, and gain some consistancy in color for generic (non-specific color temp) bulbs. It’d be nice if they’d make them ceiling fan tolerant too. None of my short-lifers were in fans, but many of my others are and the packaging says vibration reduces lifetime.

Sparky says:

Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb dumb

I don’t understand what the problem is. Sure, they use more electricity than some other alternatives. But, I pay for that electricity. If the power company can’t provide enough juice, then it should raise the price. If the price goes up, I may decide to switch to CFLs or just decide to use my A/C a bit less, replace my inefficient refrigerator or use natural gas for cooking. Those all accomplish the same goal, but let me choose the solution that’s best for me, without telling me that I have to put CFLs in a chandelier.

tedkidd@yahoo.com says:

Re: Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb dumb

Sparky, If you are proposing that government “encourage” conservation through increased taxation on energy rather than outlawing incandescent bulbs I wholeheartedly agree.

They should do the same thing with the oil and auto industries, but it’s much more “popular” to demand cafe standards from “big auto” than increase fuel costs to the poor helpless “consumer,” although it’s less efficient and we pay either way.

Sparky says:

Re: Re: Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb dumb


Well, not quite.

I don’t completely understand the idea of conserving electricity just for the sake of doing so. I conserve electricity because when I don’t, it costs me more money. If the supply of electricity is insufficient to handle the demand, then the right approach is to let the price float to the market-clearing price. If you’re worried about poor folks being able to afford to heat their houses, have a tiered price system. No need to impose a tax.

In any case, the right approach is to create more electricity (I prefer nuclear power — it’s safe and clean). That, combined with improvements in battery and capacitor technology, will allow us to dramatically cut back on our use of oil by making plug-in hybrids cost-efficient.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Another problem not mentioned

Remember this when switching to the newer CFL’s…. they contain a very high amount of mercury. Should you ever break one by accident you will introduce dangerous levels of mercury into your house. The cost of cleanup can get into thousands of dollars, pretty much negating any saving you may earn.

This is a myth. Not only is it a myth, but I linked to the site debunking the myth in the post itself. Please don’t repeat the myth.

Mike in Austin says:

Re: Another problem not mentioned

WarOtter wrote:

Remember this when switching to the newer CFL’s…. they contain a very high amount of mercury. Should you ever break one by accident you will introduce dangerous levels of mercury into your house. The cost of cleanup can get into thousands of dollars, pretty much negating any saving you may earn.

Actually, they only contain ~3mg of mercury, about a 100 times less than what’s in the old thermometers we used to put in kid’s mouths…

Michael Long (user link) says:


I’d say that if there were only one CFL company in just one country making bulbs you might have a point.

Since there’s not, however, I’d say that competition between all of the companies in all of the different countries will probably ensure an adequate level of innovation. Especially when you factor in LEDs, OLEDs, and other alternative sources into the equation.

BigJim says:

They hurt!

When I am in a room that uses CFLs, it takes about 5 minutes for my eyes to start flickering. Leave the room and go to a room with incandescents, the problem goes away. This has happened many times, especially when traveling to hotels with CFLs. I couldn’t tell you the variety or wattage, they are just the ones used to replace the wall lamps in hotel rooms.

This is really not good policy, I guess I’ll have to start stocking up on incandescents now!

Bill says:

I have been using fluorescent lighting almost exclusively for more than a dozen years, most are CFLs. It is true that some are dim at first and take some time to get to full brightness. I frequently hear people complain about CFLs, but I never find any merit to their arguments. Fluorescent are available in nearly every temperature (degrees kelvin) and if accurate color rendering is important high CRIs are available. I have CFLs that have been in service for more than 10 years. Choosing fluorescents over incandescent is a no brainer. In nearly every case they are cheaper to purchase (bulbs/year) and much cheaper to operate. You will end up with more light in fixtures that have wattage limits and there is a far lower chance of fire ignition with fluorescent bulbs.

That said, I am still against outlawing incandescents. Not for the reasons stated above, but because there may be a few situations were incandescents may the best choice and I think people should be allowed to make stupid choices. I am in favor of a fuel guzzler tax on incandescents that would make initial purchase about the same as fluorescent.

I don’t subscribe to the idea the incandescents are what is driving innovation in lighting. I have started moving on the LED lighting. Fluorescent will have to keep improving if they are to stay ahead of LEDs.

reality Please says:

will the nanny government pay to replace all lighting fixtures and systems that are not CFL compatible?

Most dimmers and many timer systems used to control power usage will not work with CFLs at best the user loses control of thier lighting level and ability to time light usage .. at worst these all have to be replaced and junked.

also I understand that there are more hazardous wasted issues with the CFLs vs the old glass and wire incandescents.

This sounds like more Global Warming Cult panic.. Teh sky is falling lets fill the land fills with Mercury!!!!

Myth Buster says:

Funny someone just posted that the problem of Mercury in CFLs is a myth… Yet here at a goverment website for Connecticut here is what you are bringing into your home:

1. Open a window and leave the room for at least 15 minutes;

2. Wear disposable gloves and pick up the broken pieces;

3. Take a damp cloth and wipe and clean the area;

4. Use duct tape to pat the area to remove any other small pieces;

5. Place the broken pieces, cloth, disposable gloves and duct tape in a sealed bag and dispose of in the household garbage (outside).


So CFLs are safe and save energy unless they break in the winter and I have to leave my window open for 15 minutes then reheat the house..

sounds to me like another panic rush to make what is just another out of date technology in a new package a legal regulation.

Vincent Clement says:

Re: Re:

How dare those libertarian wingnuts demand that the government keep their noses out as much as our private business as possible? How dare they demand that people be responsible for their actions?

More and more people are buying alternatives to incandescents without the need for additional taxes, incentives or legislation. Seems the market has doing a much better job than the government.

pegr (profile) says:

Re: Re:

The government derives its power from the will of the people. We are not subservient to the government; it’s actually the other way around!

I would also be careful swinging around words like “freaking retards” considering what you have written.

I believe it was Winston Churchhill who said it takes about twenty years for a liberal to become a conservative, all without changing a single opinion.

FUG Buster says:

KC Wrote:

Well…the government’s job IS to govern…unless you’re a “Liberatarian” wingnut. So, I say tax the hell out of incadescents and/or ban them until people “choose” to quit being freakin retards and use the more efficient bulbs. Sorry, but the market is not a substitute for government.

Written like a true Junior Facist…
Wow… just turn over your liberties to the goverment and all will be well… how pathic .. if you like this go move to China or North Korea and you will be in Utopia .

nipsey russell says:

why are all you cry babies complaining about being forced to use CFLs? The law will say that you cant sell inefficient bulbs but wont define what type you must use. Quit complaining (and threatening to use black market inefficient incandescents bulbs from 2007)and help pave the way for more efficient technologies like better incandescent, cheaper led, and – yes – CFLs….and more….we’ve got 5 years to have better technology for chrissakes!

Nobody says:

Many of you guys have it wrong

Incandescent bulbs used in an appliance (oven light, fridge light, etc) are excluded from the ban in those countries mandating the CFL switch.

Creating solar panels for the street lamps is COSTLY. Not only do the panels cost quite a bit, but you also have to take into account batteries (that will need to be replaced over time)

In America, traffic lights have long since switched from incandescent to a halogen to save electricity. Those are being replaced for LED ones. This switch is occurring irrespective of the law for citizens. And this switch by the state isn’t an excuse for the citizens to not make the switch.

We all should switch on the basis that using OUR electricity more efficiently will create less waste. Argue about how harsh or displeasing the light is all you want, but remember, necessity is the mother of all invention. Somebody will make it. Maybe you should.

Jeff says:

Anyone remeber

When they went to low low toilets? 20 years ao we had to get these lousy toilets installed if you bought a new home. The thinking was these toilets use less water per flush but you needed 2-3 flushes to get anything down. People quickly learned to head up to Canada to get real toilets where they paid much more because the demand was higher.
The new bulbs may be more efficient but they still seem to be lacking. I read on the EPA’s sight that constantly turning the bulb on and off reduces its life. They say to leave it on for at least 15 minutes.

tedkidd@yahoo.com says:

Re: Anyone remeber (low flow toilets)

Jeff, the toilet analogy is a good one. There definitely was a period of adjustment. I own some of those crummy 1st gen “water saver” toilets and they suck.

But I bought a toilet last fall (Toto) that uses about 1 gallon per flush(unless you hold the lever down). Only once has it needed the full flush (filled toilet with dog hair). This 1.6 gpf toilet flushes better than any 3.5 gallon toilet I’ve ever seen.

So toilet technology advanced because of the law, and while service briefly declined, in the long term society is better served because of it.

Trevor T says:

“1. Open a window and leave the room for at least 15 minutes;

2. Wear disposable gloves and pick up the broken pieces;

3. Take a damp cloth and wipe and clean the area;

4. Use duct tape to pat the area to remove any other small pieces;

5. Place the broken pieces, cloth, disposable gloves and duct tape in a sealed bag and dispose of in the household garbage (outside). “

After these steps, burn down your home and garbage can to insure the mercury threat has been eliminated. It is best to avoid the contaminated site for up to 3000 years as the mercury breaks down into harmless carbon.

Shad says:

What about hotels?

I think the market would be better served to not be forced to move. In many places it makes more sense to not use these energy saving lightbulbs. As an example I can use hotels. Like towels many people will actually steal lightbulbs. A 60 cent lightbulb isn’t much of a problem and isn’t likely to be stolen. A lightbulb with a cost in the several dollars is much more likely to be stolen.

Freedom says:


When you pry the incandescent light bulb from my WARM dead hands!

Bottom line – when energy is too expensive and the altenative justifies the consumer will adjust.

If someone can point me to a link where I can buy the following fluorescent bulbs, I’m on board. In the past I haven’t been able to find them and don’t want to mix and match the lighting in our house.

100 Watt Fluorescent Bulb that can be DIMMED with a standard dimmer that outputs essentially the same light as a normal incandescent light.

50/100/150 Tri-Wattage Fluorescent Bulb – outputs the same light as an incadescent light.

Interior Can/Spot/Flood Lights – 80 or 100 Watt – Dimmable via standard dimmer – Same output as standard incandescent light.

I’m serious about this – if these exist, I’m about saving money on my electrical bill, but the last I checked they were no where to be found.

love everbody says:


Just start taking out adds in the Tiajuana classifieds asking for “incandescent light buld trafficKers” just have to watch out for the knock-off GE’s.

Think I should start collecting light bulbs? I could sell them as historical artifacts of global warming on al gore’s planet, using al gore’s internet. Wonder how many of these bulbs that boob has in his mansion? couple thousand?

Idahed says:


Right on, Jimmy the Geek! We need to realize that a making legislative changes creates new economies, rather than stopping them. Perhaps the best way for the US to get its economy rolling again…

Who’d have thought that seat belt legislation would have paved that way for head rests, lumbar support, etc. Or that catalytic converters would help pave the way for high efficiency engines. Unfortunately, much of this development occurred in other countries…

Both of these ideas were originally opposed by the US auto industry.

Now we’re opposing stem cell research based on religious views…incredible!!! How far we’ve regressed to get a few votes…

Bottom line…those that have, get comfortable and don’t like to share…and pay for legislation so much of this must be developed outside of the US, imported back in, and…whoops!…there goes another trade deficit!

But my all time favorite is our current strategy to base on economy on guns and weaponry, and be afraid to sell to China , the world’s largest economy. Not exactly a recipe for success…

Sparky says:

Re: CFLs

Idahed —

Here’s an opposite example — what work has gone into finding new ways to reduce SO2 output from coal-burning power plants?

Currently, the federal government mandates the use of scrubbers. As a result, nobody is working on developing alternative methods, because there’s no market for those methods. Western (“clean”) coal, for example, burns cleanly without significant SO2. But, eastern power plants have no incentive to use it — by law, they have to use the scrubbers, so there’s no advantage to switching.

A scrubber, however, is not just a bunch of brushes installed in a smokestack — scrubbers are expensive (they’re often as large as the power plant itself) and can consume 25% of the plant’s power output. So, the net result of this dumb policy is to jack up the price of electricity and kill off innovation.

Tim Duyzer says:

There is still plenty of competition between CFL manufacturers, as well as competition between them and companies working on LEDs. I am more concerned about government intervention in other areas: when everything is political, we can expect industries to get hurt just so someone can score a point. Doubly so for industries that don’t have a well funded lobby.

Josiah Bancroft says:

Not a bad idea at all...

I lived in Ireland for many years. Ireland used to be littered with plastic bags. The politicians passed a .10 euro surcharge on plastic bags and EUREKA. All the plastic bags littering the island disappeared.

The question isn’t coercion. Rather it is what you subsidize or allow by not charging users the full public cost through taxation.

Paul says:

Mike's dead wrong, AGAIN

Right now you have incandescent (preferred light) vs cfl (undesirable light) and you’re saying that since people prefer incandescent then the cfl manufacturers have incentive to make their product seem more like incandescent. The fact of the matter is there there are two different markets, those who will use CFL no matter what and those who will use incandescent no matter what.

When incandescents are banned you will no longer have incandescent vs CFl, but CFL vs CFL. This will cause CFL manufacturers into direct competition for ALL of the lighting and since people will still yearn for the warm glow of incandescents, whichever CFL mimics them the greatest will win.

Saying anything else is just plain foolish.

Mike (profile) says:

Re: Mike's dead wrong, AGAIN

Paul, always nice to hear from you accusing me of being wrong — but again, you seem to have your own facts totally screwed up, as you struggle for anything to make me look bad. It’s really quite sad that this is how you spend your time.

The fact of the matter is there there are two different markets, those who will use CFL no matter what and those who will use incandescent no matter what.

This is simply untrue, as seen by the growing conversion of folks who used incandescents switching to CFLs. It is clearly a substitution market, rather than two distinct markets. I’m curious how you could consider them to be two distinct markets as there is almost zero support for that fact.

When incandescents are banned you will no longer have incandescent vs CFl, but CFL vs CFL. This will cause CFL manufacturers into direct competition for ALL of the lighting and since people will still yearn for the warm glow of incandescents, whichever CFL mimics them the greatest will win.

That’s a bit of wishful thinking. Wouldn’t it be better to have CFL’s compete directly with incandescents to make a better product overall? Without the actual competition from incandescents, CFLs just need to be a little bit better, rather than a lot better. So, no, I’m afraid that despite your usual desperate attempt to make me look wrong it is, again, you who appears to be incorrect.

Nice try, though. At least you didn’t set up a complete strawman, though it is fairly laughable to think that CFLs and incandescents are distinct markets, rather than substitutes. That’s a laughable assertion.

Vincent Clement says:

Re: Paul's dead wrong, AGAIN

The fact of the matter is there there are two different markets, those who will use CFL no matter what and those who will use incandescent no matter what.

That represents two opposite extremes of the SAME market. In between are the people who are moving from incandescents to CFLs and other alternatives.

Captain Nemo says:

Light. Emitting. Diodes.
I’m using them right now. Beautiful. Just beautiful.
They’re expensive, but they’re not hazardous, they’re not hot, and they don’t burn out as quickly. I can keep them on without raising my power bill too much.
Right now, I just have them in little lamps, for at night and stuff, but when they get cheaper…

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