Print 123 comment(s) - last by plonk420.. on Feb 1 at 2:15 AM

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.

Comments     Threshold

This article is over a month old, voting and posting comments is disabled

RE: Bathroom, Recessed lighting
By Solandri on 1/25/2011 7:20:36 PM , Rating: 4
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...

"I'm an Internet expert too. It's all right to wire the industrial zone only, but there are many problems if other regions of the North are wired." -- North Korean Supreme Commander Kim Jong-il

Copyright 2016 DailyTech LLC. - RSS Feed | Advertise | About Us | Ethics | FAQ | Terms, Conditions & Privacy Information | Kristopher Kubicki