Saturday, February 09, 2008

Lessons from compact flourescents

One of the examples I use to illustrate the standards effect in The dotCrime Manifesto is the choice of Edison screw vs. Swan bayonet light bulb mounts in Europe and the US. The superiority of the Swan design was acknowledged even when the US adopted the Edison screw as the standard. But the Edison screw had a larger deployed base in the US and more importantly was unencumbered by patent rights. So for almost a century US households have had to deal with the Edison screw fixture which is less reliable (the bulbs work loose over time) and less safe (a loose bulb can spark).

So I was interested in this article forwarded to me by Mrs dFM on compact flourescent bulbs.

The cost savings of compact flourescents are significant - switching to flourescents can cut the electricity bill in half. And there are many incentive schemes to persuade consumers to switch, a pack of six compact flourescents costs $1.99 after rebate in CostCo. The problem is that after the incentive period ends there is a tendency for consumers to 'snapback' to using 'cheaper' incandescent bulbs.

This has in turn led to the search for a way to 'lock in' the consumers to using fluorescents and this in turn has led to the promotion of a new 'pin based' socket which only accepts a fluorescent bulb.

But despite the obvious advantage of CFLs they must surely be a transitional technology which will itself be displaced as LED technology becomes cheaper. LEDs are more efficient than CFLs, offer better light quality, do not need replacement (11 years of constant operation) and do not contain mercury.

We know how to make semiconductors cheaply, why is it taking so long to make cheap LED lights? And why are the LED replacement bulbs fashioned from a collection of discrete LEDs rather than manufactured as an ensemble in the manner of VLSI?


Hugues said...

One word:



Jim Fenton said...

I have a couple of indoor LED floodlights on order, backordered for several weeks, so it seems there are production issues too. I'm interested to see how they do; they are rated for considerably fewer lumens than the "standard" 65W incandescent equivalent. But on a lumens/watt basis, the LEDs I have seen aren't that different from CFLs in efficiency. But I do expect them to be instant-on, and mercury-free if that is an important consideration.