I have remarked before on the Daily Mail’s bizarre objections to low energy light bulbs (Link 1 and Link 2). But now the BBC’s Ruth Alexander at it too (Why eco-light bulbs aren’t what they seem) . In a long article she attacks every claim made for the light bulbs. But despite being supposedly written by a numerate correspondent, she fails to mention the very simple fact: using these light bulbs saves enormous amounts of money and energy. As our leaders negotiate in Copenhagen for such dramatic cuts in carbon emissions (80% within 40 years in the UK apparently) their credibility is reduced to almost zero by the folks who constantly hark on about the good ‘old-fashioned’ light bulbs. If we can’t even change our light bulbs without complaining, then what chance do we stand of really changing our lifestyle. Her criticisms fall into three categories: Brightness, Lifetime and Energy Efficiency. But I will ask you to consider others at the end of this article.
The article states that the light bulbs aren’t as bright as is claimed, and I agree. The claims are generally that the compact fluorescents are 5 times brighter for a given power, but I think the real equivalence is nearer a factor 3. Even so, that is three times more light for the energy input which is a pretty large factor. According to the article my factor of 3 (derived from informal tests and use at home) is borne out by US recommendations. However they finish with the statement that “studies show CFL bulbs can get 20% dimmer over time” Well OK, I agree. But so do conventional light bulbs! And LED light bulbs are (currently) even worse! It then states that “New European regulations expected next year mean manufacturers will have to display lumens – a measure of light output – more prominently than wattage” Well that’s a great idea, but it is not a downside of CF light bulbs.
Here the article is facile in the extreme. She points out the 10,000 hour lifetime is an average – and half the bulbs will fail before this time. Well yes, but the simple fact is that the bulbs last for years. If you put them in your house, then you are not constantly having to buy and change light bulbs as you are with conventional incandescent bulbs. They do actually last for years.
Here the article loses all track of common sense. This point is already covered in the first point! However the article confuses the matter – deliberately I would say – by using ‘efficiency’ and ‘savings’ figures in appropriately. They say that the CF light bulbs only save 60% of your energy rather than 80% and they compare this with Halogen light bulbs which are 30% more efficient. The facts are these: To get the same light output, using a halogen light bulb will use 70% of the energy you would have used. But using a CF light bulb will use only 40% of the energy i.e. it is more than twice , and nearly three times as efficient – an efficiency improvement of (roughly) 250%.
This article is pernicious. It’s tone implies that these light bulbs are somehow a con. They are not! The technology is imperfect, but they are lighting my home as we speak and they work fine. They also reduce emissions of mercury and radioactive materials into our environment, and represent a pretty straightforward way in which we can reduce easily carbon dioxide emissions. If the UK switched over entirely to CF lighting then there would be one 1 GW power station that we simply wouldn’t need. And to top it all, they save me significant amounts of money (hundreds of real pounds every year!) Just what is Ruth Alexander’s problem?