Lightbulbs: The more efficient they get, the more light we use

Sep 14, 2010 By Sandy Bauers

This is a cautionary tale about a few porch lights. Once upon a time, porch lights had incandescent bulbs. Eventually, many residents subbed them out with those swirly compact fluorescent bulbs, which use a quarter of the energy.

The funny thing -- and yes, they laughed about this -- was that once they made the switch, some residents were so delighted with the that they dispensed with the hassle of turning the lights off at dawn, then back on at dusk.

They left the porch lights lit round the clock.

This is one of the beautiful things about technological advances: They often make life simpler and easier.

But the obvious rub is that electric usage didn't decline as much as it could have.

That may well be the case going forward, even as the use of , or LEDs, which use even less energy than CFLs, becomes more widespread.

LED researchers from the Sandia National Laboratories in Albuquerque, N.M., have studied historical patterns of lighting use, and they have reached some disquieting conclusions.

Consistently over the last 300 years, as humans have progressed from candles to oil lamps to gas lamps to electricity, we've responded by simply opting for more .

Even if it got cheaper, even if it was more efficient, we never said, "Let's conserve." We just used more.

The researchers looked at potential contributing factors and found an interesting correlation with overall wealth, expressed as per capita , or GDP. It turns out, fairly consistently, humans have spent 0.72 percent of GDP on lighting. Their findings were published last month in the .

As wealth and the GDP have risen, so has light use.

What they don't know is whether the past will predict the future, says lead researcher Jeff Tsao.

As the technology gets more efficient, will we simply bathe ourselves in more light?

Consider the example of TVs. Companies keep making more efficient ones, and we just get bigger ones. Then we add TiVo. Set-top boxes are one of a household's major energy-guzzling electronic devices.

We make refrigerators more efficient, and then add water dispensers and automatic ice makers.

Maybe we're just a greedy species.

So perhaps the advent of LEDs will mean that city streets and other public places that are dim or dark now will be flooded with light.

Maybe we'll decide our highways need to be better lit, too.

This isn't all bad, of course. In the past, more lighting has led to increased productivity and a better quality of life. Certainly, this would be welcome in developing nations, which might also see a rise in literacy if children didn't have to study by oil .

Another upside is that public safety might improve, as well as an overall sense of community. Think Times Square, only brighter.

Tsao also points out that with an aging world population that has declining eyesight, we might need more light to compensate.

We may find amazing new uses for light, says coauthor Mike Coltrin, another Sandia LED researcher.

One concern, other than energy use, is light pollution, which can blind drivers and astronomers alike. But the researchers point out that LED lighting can be more finely tuned and focused.

Fortunately, dimming technologies also are improving, which might blunt the energy-sucking effects of more lighting. Some parking garages, for instance, are lit, but at a low level. Motion detectors sense when a person walks through, and they make that section brighter.

Tsao says no one really knows how much light is enough.

Regulations might have an effect. In the U.S., an energy bill passed by Congress in 2007 will phase out the incandescent bulb by 2014.

Since I'm greedy, too, my hope is that we can do both: Have a brighter, better world, and still use less electricity.

After all, as in the case of the porch lights -- where the efficiency of fluorescents more than made up for the doubled usage -- that's precisely what happened.

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User comments : 20

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ziprar
2.5 / 5 (10) Sep 14, 2010
More efficient doesnt mean better.. for my eyes!
To get the same amout of light of one normal 100watt bulb you need probably 4 or 5 energy efficient ones, and I personally dont like the white light (produced by EE bulb), it just makes my eyes tired.
I rather spend money on electricity bill than glasses, contacts or laser op.
ormondotvos
3.6 / 5 (8) Sep 14, 2010
What a profoundly witless post.
aswicks
4.7 / 5 (3) Sep 14, 2010
Greetings Ziprar - I love the daylight white light. I suffer from SAD and find that the daylight spectrum of the special fluorescent lights helps during the winter. I already use focused lights at my desk and in other places in the house that don't require overall lighting and suspect that the LED lights will be even better.
trekgeek1
4.6 / 5 (8) Sep 15, 2010
More efficient doesnt mean better.. for my eyes!
To get the same amout of light of one normal 100watt bulb you need probably 4 or 5 energy efficient ones, and I personally dont like the white light (produced by EE bulb), it just makes my eyes tired.
I rather spend money on electricity bill than glasses, contacts or laser op.


The packages for CFL's clearly list the lumen rating of the bulb. Match this number and not the wattage. A lumen is a lumen, no matter where it comes from.
LivaN
3.2 / 5 (6) Sep 15, 2010

A lumen is a lumen, no matter where it comes from.


But the spectrums may vary. There is something to be said for having a "warmer" light.
Bob_Kob
2.9 / 5 (7) Sep 15, 2010
The whole point of turning lights off is to save money. Making them more efficient and therefore cheaper lets us use them more when we actually want them.
haroon
2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 15, 2010
all of the above post i like the word"GREEDY"we want to save more data on drives ,we send more data,we want more processing,any thing we want is just;MORE AND MORE:
CreepyD
4.2 / 5 (6) Sep 15, 2010
That's the main point I think. Humans are indeed greedy. No matter what anyone has, they always want more, myself included.
That's probably why we are where we are today.
Jimbaloid
1.7 / 5 (3) Sep 15, 2010
LEDs promise brighter future, not necessarily greener
August 24, 2010 - Same story?
alq131
5 / 5 (2) Sep 15, 2010
There was a study I recall from way back that said people across all economic groups felt that if they "just had 25%" more than whatever they currently have, they would be content and happy.

It was independent of what was needed, money, clothes, time, short commute, food, sleep, savings, friends. EVERYONE from the billionaire to the homeless person just needed 25% more and they'd be fine... I recall thinking, yeah that sounds about right, but i'd need some more data...
dtxx
2 / 5 (7) Sep 15, 2010

A lumen is a lumen, no matter where it comes from.


But the spectrums may vary. There is something to be said for having a "warmer" light.


Not in terms of brightness. The lumen is a normalized unit of visual intensity which accounts for the human eye's varying sensitivity to different wavelengths . It does not measure the energy in the photons being emitted directly. Hence, if two otherwise identical bulbs of different color temperature are plugged in next to each other, one will appear brighter. However, they will both be drawing and outputting the same power.
SteveL
5 / 5 (3) Sep 15, 2010
There was a study I recall from way back that said people across all economic groups felt that if they "just had 25%" more than whatever they currently have, they would be content and happy.

It was independent of what was needed, money, clothes, time, short commute, food, sleep, savings, friends. EVERYONE from the billionaire to the homeless person just needed 25% more and they'd be fine... I recall thinking, yeah that sounds about right, but i'd need some more data...


About 25% more?
Kingsix
5 / 5 (1) Sep 15, 2010
Businesses are all regulated by profit margins. I'm working on an univ as we speak, where every class will be lit with about 0.8 W/sqft. That would be ltg your 1000sqft apart. with 8, 100W incand bulbs. That would be very dark.
As for the color, Fluor lamps, CFLs and leds are all capable of being produced in warm light like incand.
jerryd
3.5 / 5 (2) Sep 15, 2010
ziprar is an idiot. A CFL makes the same light as both a 100 wt regular one and an LED is as eff as a CFL/unit of light output.

Light color can be what you want in CFL's, just pick the one you want. Personally I like bright white as it makes it easier to read.

I put in 2 CFL's I use most and save $2/wk each and they only cost $2.50 each so paYBACK IS 5WEEKS!!

.
O2BOOM
2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 15, 2010
More efficient doesnt mean better.. for my eyes!
To get the same amout of light of one normal 100watt bulb you need probably 4 or 5 energy efficient ones, and I personally dont like the white light (produced by EE bulb), it just makes my eyes tired.
I rather spend money on electricity bill than glasses, contacts or laser op.

I hope you know, being in low light does not damage your eyes, it is an old wives tale.
O2BOOM
2.3 / 5 (3) Sep 15, 2010
That's the main point I think. Humans are indeed greedy. No matter what anyone has, they always want more, myself included.
That's probably why we are where we are today.

Advanced beyond sticks and stones?
Sounds like we should thank our "dark desires" like greed and pride.
knikiy
1 / 5 (1) Sep 15, 2010
No mention of the hormonal effects of artificially extended daytime, I guess increasing the risk of cancer is a small price to pay for more productivity.

http://tulane.edu...ncer.cfm
El_Nose
3 / 5 (1) Sep 16, 2010
I'm with dtxx -- besides the ability of a human eye to determine which spectrum has more colors is very limited often that 'warmer' light that is talked about is missing a whole heck of a lot of green.
MorituriMax
1 / 5 (2) Sep 19, 2010
Unlike this guy who oversimplifies everything, I left my porch light on all the time long before I was forced to switch to the new ones. So I do indeed save money.

As for us being greedy as a species, it didn't bother him enough to not post this article. If he wants to start saving everyone and not be another greedy human, how about he stops using the internet, save energy at home and at work and unplug all the gadgets and put his money where his mouth is. I think we might start saving more power if we stop giving everyone with an opinion a job posting those opinions.
Justsayin
1 / 5 (2) Sep 21, 2010
Greed is good! The largest savings from LED's will come from assets that produce cash flow. When a business or asset has lower expenses their bottom line can grow making the asset more valuable that is why big business has a voracious appetite for them already http://www.greena...res-5604

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