Compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) are 75% more energy-efficient than traditional incandescent bulbs, they are available at competitive prices, and their light quality is better than ever.
And as of 2012, CFLs account for 27% of all bulbs installed in the more than 3 billion medium-sized lamp sockets in the US. But these bulbs have come a long way: in 1998, almost half of Californians (who tend to be energy efficiency pioneers) didn’t even know what a CFL was.
The rise of the CFL, according to a fascinating retrospective published this month in The Electricity Journal, resulted from decades of collaboration among utilities, manufacturers, government agencies, and energy efficiency advocates.
One theme underlying the 30-year initiative to promote CFLs has been the product’s potential to reduce electricity demand enough to curb the needs for new (and expensive) power plants. Motivated by the associated economic and environmental benefits, there are now more than 100 CFL promotion programs in the US (managed by utilities, states, and energy efficiency organizations), which collectively invested more than $252 million in 2010 to encourage CFL use (most commonly through discounts and marketing).
And although CFLs may be the poster child of lighting-related energy conservation of the past 30 years, they could soon be eclipsed by the next revolution in energy-efficient lighting: Light-Emitting Diodes, or LEDs. LEDs may be the most efficient illumination technology yet, manufacturers say they’ll last up to 20 years, and they may well steal CFLs’ thunder in the same way that CFLs have begun to displace incandescent bulbs.
For the in-depth history of how the CFL went from being an obscure technological novelty that cost $35 in the 1980s, to becoming a ubiquitous and cost-effective cornerstone of energy efficiency (e.g. 8 out of 10 California households now use them), check out Peter Miller’s new article “A Brighter Idea: The Untold Story of the CFL.”
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