LIghting the Way to Energy Efficiency
Brian Luedtke
Greetings, children of the great recession! In this weeks column we will discuss a simple way in which consumers can make an impact and save time, electricity and money. It is a simple concept that is commonly dismissed and overlooked: energy efficiency.

Amory B. Lovins, director of research at the Rocky Mountain Institute said, "Converting to efficient lighting equipment would save the U.S. equal to the output of 120 large power plants plus $30 billion a year (1991) in fuel and maintenance costs."

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 requires general-purpose light bulbs to be 30 percent more energy efficient by 2014. As a result of this act, incandescent light bulbs will be illegal after 2014.

Incandescent bulbs work by passing electricity through a metal filament until it becomes so hot that it glows. The result is 90-95 percent of the electricity converted to heat and 5-10 percent of the electricity converted to light. Incandescent bulbs make great heaters, but very inefficient light sources.

Thanks to many technological advancements and demand from all sectors of the economy, efficient light sources are on their way. You may have used or seen a compact fluorescent light (CFL) at home, work or school. They are the bulbs with the white base that has some tubes sprouting out and going back in. CFLs are four times more efficient, last up to ten times longer than incandescent bulbs and make good area lighting where the bulbs will be on for more than 15 minutes at a time. Turning the bulbs on and off repeatedly affects the bulbs lifespan.

Unfortunately, these bulbs contain mercury and therefore should be handled carefully. The amount of mercury in the bulbs is actually less than the amount of mercury emitted from the burning of coal for electricity to light the bulb. CFLs also require special recycling, which can be done where they were purchased. However, CFLs, which convert 80 percent of electricity to heat, are really just a stepping-stone until a more efficient, affordable and easily recyclable technology is developed.

Switching to energy efficient lightbulbs can save time, money and electricity.
Photo by Samantha Feld.

Light emitting diodes (LED) and organic light emitting diodes (OLED) are the future of lighting. LED's are now available which can substitute for most situations where an incandescent bulb or CFL was used in the past. Some of these LEDs are reported to last 50,000 hours. They can be turned on and off like incandescent bulbs without decreasing their life span.

OLEDs are a whole new kind of light; they consist of sheets of carbon-based compounds that will glow. These sheets could be put on walls or ceilings to illuminate a room as well as many other applications.

In a Department of Energy study, where LED lighting was compared to current lighting over 20 years (2010- 2030), it was estimated that $120 billion in energy costs would be saved. This would also reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 246 million metric tons of carbon.

Choosing the right bulb for the right situation, such as putting LED's in places that require frequent turning on and off (bathroom, closet, kitchen) and CFL's in places that require area lighting for long periods of time (living room, dining area) can save time, money and electricity all at the same time.

"Our entire society rests upon-- and is dependent upon--our water, our land, our forests and our minerals. How we use these resources influences our health, security, economy and well-being."