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The mayor of Los Angeles, Antonio Villaraigosa gave away free CFL bulbs, while on the campaign trail in 2009.  (Source: Getty Images)

CFL lightbulbs are burning out 3 years faster than originally expected, disappointing Californian regulators.  (Source: Paul Swansen/Flickr)

Less customers are buying CFL bulbs than expected, despite tax incentives that total nearly 3 dollars per bulb, cutting the price to one third the standard MSRP.  (Source: Walmart Corporate)
State government concludes that it will not realize the savings it expected

It was all flowers and roses when the state of California launched its $548M USD program to help promote consumer use of compact fluorescent lamps.  Manufacturers and utilities were onboard because they received bonus pay to enact rebate programs.  Citizens were happy as they received cheap CFL bulbs, which promised to save them money on power expenses.  And the politicians were happy, as they looked sufficiently "green" to satisfy the eco-minded voters.

Now that utopian vision of futuristic lighting has dissolved into rancor and disappointment.  A multi-million dollar program by the state designed to evaluate the actual results has concluded that energy savings were not as good as expected and that utilities were being over-rewarded for their performance.

At the heart of the problems is the fact that utility provider Pacific Gas & Electricity Corp (PG&E) has forced to cut estimates of CFL life average lifetimes from 9.3 years in 2006 to 6.3 years.  The shorter-than-expected lifetime was due largely to people turning CFL lights on and off, and the fact that CFL bulbs were often put in disadvantageous locations like bathrooms or recessed lighting.

The state studies say that the shorter lifetimes led to the utility missing its proposed energy cuts.  PG&E disagrees, claiming it narrowly made the targets.  Now state regulators are left to argue whether to award the utility its expected bonus pay.

Another thing working against PG&E is that, despite its up-front investment of $92M USD for a CFL rebate program, fewer bulbs were sold, fewer were screwed in, and they saved less energy than PG&E anticipated.  While Californians only pay $1.30 for the subsidized bulbs versus $4 in states where they were not subsidized, the citizens didn't all seem interested in jumping on board and moving away from traditional incandescent lighting.

One headache for utilities is that they are only rewarded for the energy saved by customers who, when surveyed, say they would not have otherwise purchased the bulbs.  

Still, for all PG&E's complaining, it did receive $104M USD from two rounds of funding ($143.7M USD initially, and $68M USD in December 2010) -- more than its rebate program, which it has not even completed.

The California government is now considering switching from rewarding utilities based on energy savings, to rewarding them based on the amount of adoption.  Many, including some utilities, argue that the switch would simplify the accounting process for everyone and reduce the penalties for cooperating utilities if, outside their control, the products fail to deliver the expected savings.

The aftermath of the California CFL mess is perhaps, just a sign of things to come.  California, the leading state in promoting CFLs, began phasing out incandescent light bulbs on January 1.  Next year the rest of the nation will follow.  By 2014, incandescent light bulbs will be gone from shelves, for better or worse.

The transition is a win for one party, at least -- China.  Chinese manufacturers produced the vast majority of the 100 million CFLs installed in California since 2006.

Worldwide, many nations, rich and poor are also eyeing major CFL campaigns.  The World Bank, as part of its charitable efforts, donated away five million CFL light bulbs in Bangladesh in one day alone.  Its also giving away CFL bulbs in many other nations in an effort to make lighting more affordable in impoverished nations. 

CFL lighting will likely eventually be replaced by LED lamps, which are currently almost prohibitively expensive, but offer even longer lifetimes.



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RE: Bathroom, Recessed lighting
By chmilz on 1/25/2011 5:01:53 PM , Rating: 3
I make regular trips to the store I bought mine at to replace them under their 5-year warranty. I have 10 bulbs in my two bathrooms, and have replaced at least a dozen individual bulbs over the last two years.

My power bill has gone down, but if it weren't for the no-hassle 5-year exchange warranty, I wouldn't have saved any money.


RE: Bathroom, Recessed lighting
By dubldwn on 1/25/2011 5:43:23 PM , Rating: 2
Wow. That’s amazing. It almost sounds like there’s something wrong. I’m curious what brand all you guys bought. I have all incandescent because I don’t like CFL. I moved into my new place in September of 2004 and I have not replaced a single bulb. Zero.


RE: Bathroom, Recessed lighting
By sprockkets on 1/25/2011 5:54:10 PM , Rating: 2
Depends. You shouldn't use CFL in bathrooms.

In any case, the flood lamps lasted me around 7-8 years. The usual cheap bulbs maybe around 2-3 on average.

The original Lights of America ones that cost a lot from early 2001? Still going.

My halogens in the bathroom have yet to be replaced. Been there for 4 years so far.

I'm willing to bet if the $4 a bulb CFLs were still sold they would also last "forever."

Also, Home Depot also now recycles CFL's for free.


RE: Bathroom, Recessed lighting
By StevoLincolnite on 1/25/2011 9:30:59 PM , Rating: 4
Incandescent light bulb's aren't allowed to be sold here in Australia and we were given promises how CFL was essentially our savior.

Not denying the electricity companies may have saved money...
Did we save money? Nope.
Incandescent bulbs were multiple times cheaper and the electricity companies just increased the costs of electricity anyway.

So far Halogen Bulbs are pretty much my only option until LED bulbs get cheaper as CFL's give me headaches.
Not to mention CFL's have Mercury which isn't good for the environment.


RE: Bathroom, Recessed lighting
By Spuke on 1/25/2011 9:43:29 PM , Rating: 2
I bought 19 CFL's about 5 years ago. All are still working except for the one's used for the front and back porches (5), the outside garage lights (2), and the one's in my office (2). The one's used outside only lasted as long as the incandescents so I went back to those. Going to start replacing some interior lights with LED's sometime this year.


RE: Bathroom, Recessed lighting
By michael67 on 1/26/11, Rating: -1
RE: Bathroom, Recessed lighting
By michael67 on 1/26/11, Rating: -1
RE: Bathroom, Recessed lighting
By kingius on 1/26/2011 7:14:00 AM , Rating: 2
The key is to buy 'warm white' ones.

I just switched out all of the ceiling lights on my boat for LED's and the saving on the battery is about six times; that is I can switch six ceiling lights out on and be using the same power as the old halogens.


RE: Bathroom, Recessed lighting
By michael67 on 1/26/2011 6:20:41 PM , Rating: 1
Did i get a -1 because i posted a bad post.

Ore did i get it because i double posted, because the freaking ad website was taking for ever And i was thinking i miss-clicked and DT after years of people complaining still dose not have a edit button ?


RE: Bathroom, Recessed lighting
By MrBlastman on 1/27/2011 12:19:44 PM , Rating: 2
I think you got a -1 for bad grammar and spelling, not because of the subject matter or the double-post.


RE: Bathroom, Recessed lighting
By EricMartello on 1/28/11, Rating: -1
RE: Bathroom, Recessed lighting
By Dark Legion on 1/29/2011 4:24:32 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
yet most of them work in $30K per year tech jobs with no future - now that's funny.

Pot, meet kettle.
And no, what he said was not fully understandable. Sure, not everyone can speak/write English or had it as their first language, but that's not an excuse for those who can to butcher the language or get lazy. And if someone doesn't know, why not correct them and try to teach them, rather than have them making the same mistake every time.

To answer your question, many people do, which is evident alone in the comment section of most DT articles.


By Astral Abyss on 1/27/2011 12:24:09 PM , Rating: 2
"I bin using them sins they came out" was as far as I needed to read to determine the -1 was well deserved.


RE: Bathroom, Recessed lighting
By plonk420 on 2/1/2011 2:15:06 AM , Rating: 2
of the 3-4 brands of CFLs i've gotten, i rather like the Lights of America. i don't think they're more than 2-3 years old, but they haven't burnt out yet (my most often used set is in my bathroom).

i still prefer incandescent (or even halogen) in my living room, however.

i have LED in my kitchen and bathroom, tho, running 24-7, so that i can try to move around without any other lights on (i have a front projection system in my living room right off my kitchen).


RE: Bathroom, Recessed lighting
By Solandri on 1/25/2011 7:20:36 PM , Rating: 4
quote:
Wow. That’s amazing. It almost sounds like there’s something wrong.

Posting is gonna undo my ratings, but I guess I have some better data on this than most people. I worked at a hotel for a few years when they switched from incandescent to CFLs. So we had a sample size of close to a thousand bulbs.

The initial CFLs we bought as tests did very well. Only a few failed within 1-2 years. The (U.S.) manufacturer just told us to send them back for free replacements so we didn't lose any money on them.

The next big batch we bought were cheap discount CFLs made in China. I was concerned that TANSTAAFL and there had to be some reason they were cheaper. But since we were buying nearly a thousand and the price difference came out to over $5k, we didn't really give it much though. At the price difference, we could buy nearly twice as many CFLs. Maintenance reported that these bulbs had a much higher burnout rate than the first batch of CFLs.

Overall it was still a win over incandescents though. The Chinese CFL burnout rate was still better than with incandescents. Instead of our employees having to replace 1-3 burned out bulbs every day with incandescents, it dropped to 1 dead CFL every few days. And by our calculations they ended up saving us over $10k/yr in electricity (never mind the reduced labor costs for changing bulbs in some of the harder to reach places), which more than covered their higher purchase price.

Still, in a free market it's natural for a manufacturer to figure out ways to reduce their costs without impacting sales. Cutting corners on whatever features were giving the first batch of CFLs their longevity would be almost the perfect place for a manufacturer to reduce cost. The customer wouldn't notice anything was wrong for months if not years, by which time you received your payment and they're long past any return period.


RE: Bathroom, Recessed lighting
By mcnabney on 1/26/2011 9:27:34 AM , Rating: 5
Yup, the Chinese business model.

Make it cheaper than anyone else to destroy the domestic competition and make it as cheaply as possible so the customer has to replace it again and again.

This doesn't just apply to lightbulbs. My original microwave oven lasted from 1982 until 1998 (didn't die, my wife just thought it was ugly). In the past 12 years we have had to replace them every 2-4 years. The one we bought three years ago is already making a buzzing sound...


RE: Bathroom, Recessed lighting
By Alexstarfire on 1/25/2011 11:48:43 PM , Rating: 2
And at our house I don't even remember the last time we replaced a light bulb, that's how long it's been. Hell, after thinking about it I think the last light bulb that went out was really because of a malfunctioning socket.


RE: Bathroom, Recessed lighting
By mooty on 1/26/2011 7:58:59 AM , Rating: 2
Same for me too, and even in the bathroom. I haven't had to replace bulbs for years, except in a faulty socket, that killed 2 pretty quick, and one that met an accident.


RE: Bathroom, Recessed lighting
By ZachDontScare on 1/26/2011 2:18:06 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
My power bill has gone down, but if it weren't for the no-hassle 5-year exchange warranty, I wouldn't have saved any money.


Have you factored in how much you spent on gas to go back and forth to the store replacing them? Or the value of your time? I'd be suprised if there was actually a net savings for you.


By AnnihilatorX on 1/27/2011 5:14:06 AM , Rating: 2
But surely you don't go to stores just to buy a bulb. You can get grocery done too.


"Nowadays you can buy a CPU cheaper than the CPU fan." -- Unnamed AMD executive














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