It’s time to replace your lightbulbs – Advice Eating

Illuminating the world with artificial light has a significant environmental impact. Around 15 percent of global electricity consumption and five percent of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions can be attributed to lighting alone. The use of artificial lights at night also contributes to light pollution in the environment, which can disrupt wildlife behavior and contribute to insect biodiversity loss.

To save energy, it is often recommended to turn off the light when not in use. However, it’s not that simple. The energy required to illuminate the room depends a lot on the type of light bulb. Incandescent bulbs – the least efficient type of lighting – should always be turned off when not in use. Meanwhile, compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), which are more affected by the frequency of on-off cycles, should only be turned off if you leave the room for more than 15 minutes.

While turning off lights can help reduce energy use, switching to light-emitting diodes (LED) — currently the most energy-efficient lighting technology available — may be even better in the long run. Compared to tungsten filament in lightbulbs or mercury vapor in CFLs, diodes require less current to produce a light output, making them use less energy and last longer than other lighting options. Therefore, switching to energy-efficient lighting brings ecological and economic benefits.

Lightbulbs are not very energy efficient

The biggest environmental problem with incandescent lamps is their low energy efficiency. Only 2 to 3 percent of the electricity powering the lightbulb is actually converted into visible light, says Matthew J. Eckelman, an assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Northeastern University. For a lightbulb to work, the tungsten filament inside must be heated to the point where it glows. This type of lightbulb is not efficient because the rest of the electrical energy that goes into the lightbulb and is not converted into visible light is lost as heat.

“Incandescent light bulbs use more energy and generate more heat because of their technical design,” says Paul Foote, an energy efficiency and conservation specialist at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. It’s important to switch to more energy-efficient alternatives to reduce the environmental impact of incandescent bulbs using fossil fuels for electricity, he added.

Other lighting technologies are a more efficient option. For example, CFLs and LEDs use about 75 percent and 90 percent less energy, respectively, than incandescent bulbs. Compared to incandescent bulbs, these higher-efficiency alternatives use more electricity to produce light rather than heat.

[Related: Energy costs hit low-income Americans the hardest.]

If every household in the country replaced an incandescent bulb with a CFL bulb, it would save enough energy annually to avoid greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to what 800,000 cars would produce. Because LEDs are more energy efficient than CFLs, their use can reduce greenhouse gas emissions even further.

“This is important because 60 percent of US electricity is still generated from fossil fuels, with associated emissions of greenhouse gases and harmful air pollutants like particulate matter,” says Eckelman. “Air pollution from the energy system causes one in five deaths worldwide, but reducing electricity demand through energy efficiency helps reduce this health burden.”

According to a 2017 study published in environmental research lettersIf a household uses incandescent light bulbs an average of more than three hours a day, it may be optimal to upgrade them by immediately replacing them with CFLs or LEDs. If it is only used about 1/7 hour, it is better to keep the incandescent bulb and replace it with an LED bulb in the following year. Using a model, the authors determined the best time to retire a working lamp to provide an optimal replacement policy under all possible upgrade scenarios.

Switching to energy-efficient light bulbs in the home not only minimizes the environmental impact of inefficient lighting, but also illuminates the home with the same amount of light at a lower environmental and economic cost.

New lightbulb rules will reduce carbon emissions and save money

Last week, the US Department of Energy (DOE) passed a new rule introducing a minimum standard of 45 lumens per watt for light bulbs. This will essentially phase out older, high-energy incandescent bulbs that don’t meet the 15 lumens per watt criteria.

By specifying a minimum light output, or lumens per watt, manufacturers ensure that all lightbulbs can effectively illuminate a room, which ensures consumers avoid wasting energy on inferior lightbulbs to achieve the same level of brightness, Foote says. “When converting from incandescent to LED, we’ve seen an average 60 percent reduction in energy use, and therefore avoiding energy costs has reduced our electricity bill by similar amounts for lighting,” he adds.

Once the DOE’s new rules are fully implemented next year, consumers are expected to save nearly $3 billion a year on their utility bills. Also, they don’t need to buy lightbulbs as often as they used to because CFLs last much longer than incandescent bulbs.

[Related: You might be buying the wrong lightbulbs.]

“Incandescent bulbs have a shorter lifespan compared to other lighting technologies like fluorescent bulbs or LEDs, which can last 10 to 50 times longer,” says Eckelman. “That means consumers will have to replace lightbulbs less often. Typical incandescent bulbs operate at around 15 lumens per watt, so the standard represents at least a tripling of energy efficiency and a reduction in power consumption for lighting by at least two-thirds.”

Thanks to the new regulation, around 222 million tons of CO2 emissions should be saved over the next 30 years. Still, making sure everyone has access to affordable energy-saving lightbulbs is a crucial step.

According to a 2018 study published in applied energy, CFLs are less available and more expensive in areas of high poverty and smaller shops. The cost of converting from incandescent to LED lighting was also twice as high in areas of higher poverty. Equal access to affordable energy efficient lighting for all demographics is paramount as the nation transitions to more efficient energy use.

The DOE’s new rules will make CFLs the norm, which Eckelman says should improve accessibility. Since 2008, the price of LED lamps has fallen by almost 90 percent. Although the initial cost of LEDs remains higher than incandescent bulbs, households can still save anywhere from $50 to $150 per bulb, depending on local electricity prices, he adds.

“However, to reduce the burden of this transition, many states are enacting energy efficiency programs, often self-funded by utilities, that offer LEDs and other energy-efficient technologies at a discount,” says Eckelman. “Expanding these types of programs and increasing outreach to lower-income areas will certainly help.”

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