Many of the performance claims about CFL bulbs have turned out to be false or misleading.
CFL bulbs: shedding light on misleading performance claims
By Kirk Myers
This article, the second in a series, focuses on the misleading performance claims surrounding the “more energy efficient” compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs now replacing traditional incandescent bulbs. These potentially harmful mercury-filled lamps (see my previous column describing the dangers) are being forced on consumers by the U.S. congress with support from the Green Lobby and light-bulb manufacturers like GE, Sylvania and Phillips. These and other manufacturers stand to make huge profits selling the more expensive CFLs (more on that issue in my next column).
There is a growing body of evidence undermining claims of the EPA, environmental lobby and light bulb manufacturers touting the performance advantages of mercury-laced CFL bulbs.
Real-world reports from the home front show that the claimed extended lifespan of CFLs is often greatly exaggerated. There is ample data indicating that the frequent switching on and off of CFLs greatly shortens their life. A study by H. Sterling Burnett, senior fellow at the National Center for Policy Analysis, and co-author Amanda Berg concludes:
“Unfortunately, except under a fairly narrow range of circumstances, CFLs are less efficient than advertised. Manufacturers claim the average life span of a CFL bulb is 10,000 hours. However, in many applications the life and energy savings of a CFL are significantly lower.
“Applications in which lighting is used only briefly (such as closets, bathrooms, motion detectors and so forth) will cause CFL bulbs to burn out as quickly as regular incandescent bulbs . . . When initially switched on, CFLs may provide as little as 50 percent to 80 percent of their rated light output and can take up to three minutes to reach full brightness.”
According to a story in the Wall Street Journal, Pacific Gas & Electric originally estimated the useful life of CFL bulbs at 9.4 years. But based on real-world results, the company was forced to lower its estimate to 6.3 years, meaning that it had overstated bulb life by 49 percent. “The early burn-out rate, along with several other factors, meant that the actual energy savings were 73 percent less than the 1.7 billion kilowatt hours projected by PG&E,” the Journal reported.
Less bright, more dim with age
As many consumers have noticed, CFL bulbs grow dimmer as they age. In a 2003-2004 study, the U.S. Department of Energy reported that one-fourth of CFLs, after only 40 percent of their rated service life, no longer produced at their rated output.
And according to Wikipedia: “CFLs produce less light later in their lives than when they are new. The light output decay is exponential, with the fastest losses being soon after the lamp is first used. By the end of their lives, CFLs can be expected to produce 70-80% of their original light output.”
After conducting its own tests on bulbs from several manufacturers, The Sunday Telegraph in London “found that under normal conditions, using a single lamp to light a room, an 11W low-energy CFL produced only 58 percent of the illumination of an ‘equivalent’ 60W bulb – even after a 10-minute ‘warm-up.’”
The European Commission, which led the effort to ban incandescent bulbs in Europe, said that claims by manufacturers that CFL’s shine as brightly as old-fashioned bulbs are “not true.”
Posted on its website for consumers was the warning that “exaggerated claims are often made on the packaging about the light output of compact fluorescent lamps.”
Higher heating bills
Go-Green advocates like to complain about the fact that 90 percent of the energy from incandescent lights is given off as heat, with only 10 percent providing illumination. But they ignore one important fact: The extra heat given off during the winter months can actually lower energy bills.
According to a study by the Mackinac Center for Public Policy, “The heat of incandescent lights – more than 341 Btu per bulb per hour – can help to warm a room. Therefore, if the cost of electricity is low relative to the cost of home heating fuel, there may be an economic case for changing to incandescent bulbs in colder seasons.”
In other words, on a cold day when you’re running your electric heater, it makes sense to flip on all those incandescent heat sources. Of course, the contribution of incandescent bulbs to lower heating bills is conveniently missing from pro-CFL literature.
Unsuitable for outdoor lighting
What about the use of CFLs for outdoor lighting? Forget it. Most do not operate well in low temperatures, a performance shortfall that makes them virtually useless for home-security lighting, including as lights in motion detectors. By signing the incandescent bulb’s death warrant, congress has effectively rendered useless outdoor lighting systems that keep away intruders and discourage home break-ins.
Myth of mercury reduction
One of the most misleading arguments advanced in defense of CFLs is the assertion that they reduce harmful mercury levels (a dubious proposition given that the bulbs themselves are laced with mercury).
Case in point: In a letter to the Wall Street Journal in December, CFL advocate Nicole Lederer claimed that “coal-fired power plants produce about half of all mercury.”
In his Jan. 5 response, Charles Battig of Scientists and Engineers for Energy and Environment-Virginia called the statement “scientifically vacuous and misleading.”
Battig cited data from an op-ed (“The Myth of Killer Mercury” by Willie Soon and Paul Driessen) that broke down mercury contributions as follows: “U.S. coal-fired plants, about 41-48 tons per year; forest fires, about 44 tons per year; Chinese power plants, 400 tons per year, while recurring geological events such as volcanoes and geysers emit 9,000-10,000 tons per year.”
“With these missing pieces of information, wrote Battig, the U.S. power plant contribution of mercury is closer to a 0.5% value than the “half of all mercury” claim by Ms. Lederer.”
Battig then offered this advice:
“Would that Ms. Lederer and the Environmental Entrepreneurs expend an equal amount of environmental anguish over placing compact fluorescent lamp bulbs indoors in homes, schools and factories. These mercury-containing, stealth-pollution bulbs bring the mercury threat right into your living room and nursery.”
No good reason for switchover
The fact is there is no good reason for consumers – even energy-conscious go-green enthusiasts – to replace their old incandescent bulbs with the much-overhyped and potentially dangerous CFL lamps. The sole beneficiaries of the forced switchover are light bulb manufacturers who stand to make huge profits selling CFL bulbs whose shelf price has been artificially lowered (but still is higher than incandescent bulbs) through hefty subsidies paid to them by taxpayers.
In light of the facts, the switchover to CFL bulbs has become a real consumer turn-off.
Thanks to Kirk Myers for this link