Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Bye, bye bulbs?

The Australian government plans to ban incandescent lightbulbs in three years to cut the country’s greenhouse gas emissions, according to the Sydney Morning Herald. The bulbs, which were introduced more than a century ago, are terribly inefficient, with about 95% of the energy they consume lost as heat. The Australian government will promote compact florescent bulbs (CFBs) and other more energy-efficient types, like halogen. Lawmakers in Britain and the US State of California are looking at the similar bans.

Sounds like a bloody good idea to me. Australia and the United States refuse to sign the Kyoto Protocol on reducing greenhouse gasses, and both countries are among the world’s biggest producers of these gasses per capita. Australian Prime Minister John Howard has long resisted any efforts to reduce greenhouse emissions, but the issue is increasingly important as the next elections approach.

At our house, we changed to CFBs for our table lamps many years ago. Our current house has 31 ceiling fixtures, all of which had 75 or 100 watt (mostly the latter) incandescent bulbs in them when we moved in last year. We’ve been replacing these bulbs with CFBs over time, starting with the most frequently used ones (the photo above is of the first eleven surplus working bulbs; another one was burned-out).

Part of the delay is that it wasn’t cheap to replace 31 bulbs when quality CFBs cost around $5 each (around US$3.50). The other reason, frankly, is that I didn’t want to just throw away working lightbulbs, so the surplus bulbs are piling up in a box. Maybe I could give them to charity or something.

Apparently, we have it easy in New Zealand: According to the Sydney Morning Herald article, across the Tasman CFBs cost around A$10 (NZ$11) each—easily double what we pay. I have no idea why theirs cost so much more.

However, CFBs use about a fifth of the power that incandescent bulbs do. In our experience, the bulbs we put in paid for themselves in less than a year. But since CFBs last for several years (which is especially handy for bulbs in ceiling fixtures), the savings add up. Moreover, if enough of us make the switch, we can reduce the need for new power plants. That would be good news for New Zealand, in particular.

So, despite the initial expense of buying CFBs, in the not-so-long long run we save money and ease our burden on the earth. Sounds like a good plan.

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