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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 Lerianis on 1/25/2011 5:51:41 PM , Rating: 2
Funny.... when we moved into our new house, my parents and I replaced all the regular incandescents with CFL's... that was almost 9 years ago now, and they are all still going strong!

There is something that you have to take into account: do you have a whole home power spike arrest? Our house came with one, and it's paid off handsomely, because our power for the last 4 years has been going out or going higher than it should at least once a week, more often once a day.

It's only been in the past 3 months that the power to our home has been 'reliable'.

Personally, when I see CFL's going out LONG before their time period in friend's homes, one of three things is true:

1. Bad power spike that fried the CFL.
2. The CFL pushes against the housing in the light fixture, and the heat kills the bulb.
3. The chip has burned out in the CFL (this is the least common scenario, only 1 out of 10 I'd say).


RE: Bathroom, Recessed lighting
By jabber on 1/26/2011 8:34:18 AM , Rating: 2
Same here. I put all CFLs in when I moved into my apartment 16 years ago.

None of them failed. I replaced two of them due to wanting a bit more light in the room and thats it.

I would say poor electrical wiring etc. is to blame than the bulbs themselves.

Give them good steady power and they run forever but I reckon some folks homes arent that clean electrically.


RE: Bathroom, Recessed lighting
By drank12quartsstrohsbeer on 1/26/2011 10:42:23 AM , Rating: 2
quote:
There is something that you have to take into account: do you have a whole home power spike arrest? Our house came with one, and it's paid off handsomely, because our power for the last 4 years has been going out or going higher than it should at least once a week, more often once a day.

one caveat, whole house surge protectors only protect from outside-the-house surges. if you have a malfunctioning motor on a fridge, vac cleaner, air compressor, etc you can still spikes in parts of the house.

Anyway, my experience with cfl's is the last marginally longer than incandescents. But they have some advantages, like being able to put a 100w equivalent bulb in a lamp that lists a max wattage of 40 or 60 watts.


RE: Bathroom, Recessed lighting
By Nutzo on 1/26/2011 4:34:09 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
But they have some advantages, like being able to put a 100w equivalent bulb in a lamp that lists a max wattage of 40 or 60 watts.


Kind of defeats the purpose of using CFL's :)

I do the same. I have a heavly used kitchen light that takes 4 bulbs up to 60 watts. The 40 watts bulbs where not bright enough, but 60 watts bulbs got too hot and burned out to quickly. Switch to 18 watt CFL's instead. They give plenty off light, and last several years at less than 1/2 the power.


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