Let Your Light Shine

I have been reluctant to weigh in on the recent discussions dealing with electricity demand and related topics because such topics are way beyond my experience.   However, a recent New York Times article highlighted one topic that has come up in our discussions—energy conservation—that I found fascinating.  The article points out that the residential demand for electricity per household in the U.S. rose steadily from 1970 to about 2010, but then began to decline.

A primary reason given for the decline, cited in both the NYT article and in more detail by an energy economist from UC Berkley?   The large-scale switch to more efficient light bulbs.

The catalyst for the switch was 2007 Congressional legislation mandating efficiency standards for bulbs.  When the second phase of that legislation takes effect next year, only compact fluorescent and LED bulbs will meet the standards.  LED bulbs use up to 85 percent less electricity than traditional bulbs and can last up to 25 years.  And, as with most new technology, the price has come down as it has been more widely accepted.

This is a good example of government-set standards that have spurred a new industry, reduced costs for consumers, and conserved energy, with only minor disruptions.

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8 responses to “Let Your Light Shine

  1. Agree. Light bulbs have been a great way for all of us to use less energy and often, get better light at the same time.

  2. Exactly. It’s a no-brainer. LEDs cost more up front but longer term they save money – even if you did not give a rats behind about pollution or the environment. It’s a pure ROI issue.

    However, there are those who say it’s not the job of government to encourage/incentivize “conservation” – that, that is the province of the “market” and individual to exercise their “freedom”.

    Don’t laugh. That’s the argument!

    We’ve replaced every single light bulb in the house with LEDs and the place where they are especially good are places that I cannot get to without a ladder.

    We feel the same way about our cars and our water usage and our HVAC. It just makes sense to “conserve”. That used to be a non-partisan word … waste not -want not and all that … but now, apparently, it’s some sort of “leftist” idea!!

  3. Production efficiencies of scale bring the cost down. And competition: got to Home Depot and see how many brands of CFLs and LEDs they stock now. Look at the newer toilets that actually flush on way less water. And check out the steady decline in per-square-foot cost of solar photovoltaic collectors. Light bulbs merely prove the concept.

    The policy question is when to put a State mandate or incentive behind these developments, which would probably happen anyway but happen a lot faster if officially encouraged. An old example is energy star ratings on appliances under Carter (fought bitterly by the domestic manufacturers; then they started to lose appliance market share to the Koreans and Chinese). An untapped area for the future is better home insulation and HVAC standards with realistic home heating and cooling cost estimates mandated be provided by home sellers. As TomH has said here, there is low-hanging-fruit to be had from energy savings that will save customers a bundle, if only the utility and builders and the building code and the tax code will promote them. Some of these energy savings can even affect the utility’s load curve in ways that save the utility money too.

    But some people hate these efficiency mandates. They want the freedom to waste their money on double-wide pickup trucks — and the cheap gas to power them, even though we need a much higher gas tax to head off paying tolls every time we leave our driveways — and they don’t want to be coerced into someone else’s idea of what’s good for them. I’m all for mandatory disclosure of future costs (like Energy Star) but let the retail customer be an ass if he insists. The mandatory light bulb standards and prohibitions? Tough call for a libertarian.

  4. According to one estimate, LED lighting may reduce US power consumption by 40% by 2030. I am a huge fan of LED lighting. But I am not so sure government mandates forced the revolution, rather it is a new technology that is just getting better and better, without the need for humongous government subsidies to make it sell.

    • I’m with Tbill on this one. If LED lights are so great — which they probably are — I see no harm in letting the marketplace work. But if LED lights continue to get better efficiency, why the rush to force people into adopting a technology that may not be willing to pay for now but might be in the relatively near future?

  5. Which brings up the question at the heart of the discussions over government-driven energy efficiency programs. Should I have an additional charge placed on my electric bill to pay for a contractor to go around and install these high efficiency bulbs in somebody else’s home and business? Since many people don’t go this themselves because they don’t want to spend 10 bucks for a slow payback, should I be “taxed” to give them these bulbs?

    I actually don’t have a problem with what Acbar describes, mandates that prevent the manufacture of less efficient products. Interesting little news twist – that Boeing 737-8 Max flight stability issue is apparently caused by the move to super fuel efficient engines, which turn out to be far heavier and are placed very close to the fuselage. Now THERE is a trade off I might reverse….

    • Well Boeing was trying to go with larger size engines without redesigning the aircraft to make it a little higher off the ground to accomodate that change. Which may be OK but they changed the flight control software in a manner that in hindsight was not robust. Unclear yet if the recent crash is the same problem.

  6. Thank you, Jim for the reply. I will leave that end of it alone.

    I study solar energy as a hobby. Off the top of my head, less than 5% of our energy bill is for our lights. So with this small an amount it really shouldn’t matter if they are incandescent, fluorescent, LED or sky lights which use no energy at all. Congress with all their wisdom and power should stay out of regulating such a small segment of our economy. And in doing so, the big brains on the hill require us to go out and buy mercury (found in fluorescent) and bring it home to our kids. Mr. Hall-Sizemore, want something to study and write about? How about some research on what mercury does to the human body–especially a young human’s developing nervous system. Or better yet, rather than doing something sporty like reading the NYT and UC Berkley blurbs then wasting our time commenting on them, why don’t you study up on the effects of high efficiency appliances and high SEER HVAC units are having on our energy bills? That might be worth a read.

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