Bulbs banned

The incandescent ban is underway.

Conservative think tanks still hate it:

Actually, I think it’s kind of a dumb idea too – but not as bad as you might think, and in the absence of real energy or climate policy, not as dumb as doing nothing. You’d have to be really dumb to believe this:

The ban was pushed by light bulb makers eager to up-sell customers on longer-lasting and much more expensive halogen, compact fluourescent, and LED lighting.

More expensive? Only in a universe where energy and labor costs don’t count (Texas?) and for a few applications (very low usage, or chicken warming).

bulb economicsOver the last couple years I’ve replaced almost all lighting in my house with LEDs. The light is better, the emissions are lower, and I have yet to see a failure (unlike cheap CFLs).

I built a little bulb calculator in Vensim, which shows huge advantages for LEDs in most situations, even with conservative assumptions (low social price of carbon, minimum wage) it’s hard to make incandescents look good. It’s also a nice example of using Vensim for spreadsheet replacement, on a problem that’s not very dynamic but has natural array structure.

bulbModelGet it: bulb.mdl or bulb.vpm (uses arrays, so you’ll need the free Model Reader)

5 thoughts on “Bulbs banned”

  1. There are 2 aspects to the ban, the society energy/emission savings,
    and the consumer money savings

    Both are lower for too many reasons to state here,
    but can be seen via http://freedomlightbulb.org
    14 points why light bulb ban arguments don’t hold up.

    It is rather odd to justify a ban merely on supposed consumer savings – Johnny Citizen can presumably judge himself what product he wants.
    A problematic aspect is that heat effect, full life cycle effects etc are very hard to ascertain
    – and are therefore ignored.
    Follow up studies should be done to see if a ban actually gave the media-friendly “million ton CO2” etc savings – but of course regulating politicians are not concerned about follow-ups in case they are wrong ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. I think most of the arguments on the freedomlightbulb site are bogus.

    First, of all, choosing the incandescent bulb as an icon of freedom or efficiency is like choosing the donkey as an icon of modern transportation.

    They’re fragile, short-lived, hot (usually a drawback), inflexible as to placement, and too inefficient to run on batteries, to name a few drawbacks. The light is full spectrum, but it’s actually comparatively crappy because the color temperature is way too warm.

    The evidence against rational consumers is pretty overwhelming in all domains, not only energy.

    The cost accounting in #4 is silly, and It’s downhill from there, particularly “the same coal gets burned regardless of whether your light bulb is on or off.” #9 (internalization of heat) crosses the line into the physics of a counterfactual universe.

    Perhaps I’ve given the wrong impression here, but the only compelling argument against a bulb ban is that it’s an inefficient and inflexible policy when compared to pricing emissions and other externalities.

  3. Those Freedomlightbulb argument are correct, but perhaps not expressed well.

    Proportionally more heat from resistive simple incandescents is radiated externally.
    The complex CFLs and LEDs with internal ballasts and transformers retain heat in the circuits and have a greater fire risk from the bulbs themselves, particularly CFLs.

    As for same coal being burned, coal is uniquely a base loading source (too slow for peak loading at times of highest grid demand) .
    Most incandescent use is off-peak in the evenings and effectively covered by coal plant output levels as described, so the argument is valid enough.

    Your main argument seems to be that consumers are irrational in what they choose.
    But on Energy Star and other data most homes have different bulbs and had them before the ban.
    So people do not keep buying incandescent bulbs just because they are cheap, if not otherwise satisfactory.
    All light bulbs have advantages as the website says, with listed incandescent advantages, energy or money saving being just one advantage.

    Even if just buying incandescents because they are cheap:
    I don’t really have any bulb preference but would certainly choose cheap incandescents especially for rarely used lamps.
    I find this entirely rational, as I don”t save money on buying an expensive but rarely used light bulb

    It is rather presumptive to say that people are stupid in their choices, and should be limited in what they can buy of safe-to-use products.

    RE that a “compelling argument against a bulb ban is that itโ€™s an inefficient and inflexible policy when compared to pricing emissions and other externalities”
    Exactly. More relevant then is the big picture, to look at what power plant energy is used, to put a levy on coal etc if needed, rather than worry about what products people choose to buy and use.
    If targeting bulbs is still desirable the Freedomlightbulb site describes bulb taxation (which can subsidise a lower price on others) and market alternatives, if you read further down.

  4. It sounds like we more or less agree on ideal policy, differing on what to do in the second best case.

    But we disagree on physics apparently. All bulbs arrive at an equilibrium, in which heat transfer out balances heat generation. Otherwise the bulb’s temperature would increase. Therefore over any interesting time scale, all bulbs radiate 100% of their waste heat. The only sense in which proportionally more heat is radiated from incandescents is as a proportion of energy input, because they’re so much less efficient.

    The argument about coal is similarly specious. There are transient situations where electric power systems exhibit strange behaviors, like negative spot prices. But in the long run, the invisible hand works. Less evening lighting load means less baseload capital spinning and less coal into the burner.

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