Behind The Bulb
Shining A Light On All Their Secrets
Lighting is one of the major uses of our energy and with the cost of energy not only to our wallets but also the environment there has been a strong push to go energy efficient. The big question is: what is the best kind of light bulb? I sat down with Incandescent (INC), compact fluorescent (CFL) and light emitting diode (LED) to get their own stories.
1. First off, how long have you been offering your lighting services to the world?
INC: It’s going on 211 years now. It all started when Humphrey Davy, an English scientist discovered that passing a current through carbon caused the carbon to glow producing light. This is called the electric arc. From that point forward other inventors and visionaries tackled the electric arc idea (Thomas Edison being the most recognized), and perfected it into the bulb I am today.
CFL: Almost 165 years. In 1856 a German glassblower named Heinrich Geissler created a mercury vacuum pump used to evacuate glass tubes. He discovered that passing an electric current through the tube caused a fluorescent glow. Initially used for entertainment (because of the cool glowing effect) the evacuated tube was modified and improved upon. I am now currently available as an alternative to incandescent lighting.
LED: I’m the youngest at only 103 years. Electroluminescence, which is the basis of LED bulbs, was discovered in 1907 by the British experimenter H. J. Round of Marconi Labs. This initial discovery was worked on for many years and it wasn’t until 1962 when Nick Holonyak Jr., who was working at General Electric Company, created the first visible-spectrum LED bulb. From there the design was tweaked and only recently have I become more widely available for households as an alternative to incandescent and CFL lighting.
2. So, how do you light up our lives? What are your benefits or special skills that make you who you are?
INC: Honestly? I’m the tried and true model. I’ve been lighting your home since you’ve had electricity. I give off a warm and comforting glow, I’m very low in cost and I contain no chemical toxins to harm you or the environment. I also turn off and on instantly, no waiting for me to get warmed up. Plus I worked dependably inside, outside, on a dimmer switch. You name it and I can do it!
CFL: Energy savings, nuff said. I can produce the same amount of light as incandescent but at 1/5 the energy. I last a lot longer and with proper care I can illuminate your life for 10 years! Longer life and a lower energy requirement at a small increase in price, what’s not to love about me?
LED: You want to talk energy saving? I have both incandescent and CFL beat. I only require 1/10 the energy that incandescent needs. I also turn on and off instantly. My light is bright and more representative of daylight. And you think CFL lasts a long time? I’ve got a lifespan 2 to 5 times as long as CFL! I’m the light of the future baby, it’s time to join the 21st century.
3. Ok guys, let’s shed a little light on the skeletons in your closets. What are you hiding?
INC: Ok, so you’re going for the gut. Well I guess I do run a bit hot which means I’m wasting electricity generating heat rather than light. I don’t last all that long which means you have to replace me quite often. Depending how close I am to flammable materials I have been known to cause fires as well. But I’m dependable, don’t forget how dependable I am!
CFL: Sigh. Alright, I do have limits on where I work. Outside is a bit of a struggle and dimmer switches or constant on/off cycles will tend to lower my lifespan. I’m also a bit harsh on the eyes although I am improving. I also contain a very small amount of mercury which is toxic but I would like to point out that proper disposal through recycling helps keep that mercury from escaping into the environment. Also, coal-powered electricity generation is the largest source of mercury in our environment, so my energy efficiency can help reduce that source as well.
LED: Um, it would probably be my cost. You can buy 60 incandescent or 6 CFL bulbs for the cost of one of me. It’s a bit of a hit on the wallet although as I become more commonly used (wink wink, nudge nudge) my price will come down. Recently a study by the University of California (Report - pdf) found I have a few toxic chemicals inside. Currently I am disposed of in the landfill which means these chemicals can get into the environment but there are plans to set up a safe recycling/disposal service, although that’s a few years down the road. My guess is that by the time I burn out there will be a disposal system in place to handle the minute amount of toxins I do contain. I’d like to mention that there are efforts underway to change my composition to reduce or eliminate those toxins.
At the end of the interview, Incandescent was looking a bit hot and bothered and both CFL and LED were locked in a bit of a stern staring contest to see who lasted longer. All in all I hope this interview illuminated the differences between light bulbs and helped push back the shadows of doubt you may have had on your lighting choices.
Until next time!
Page last updated on Tuesday, February 15, 2011