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Incandescent Bulb to be Banned

January 11, 2010 | By: GBB | No Comments on Incandescent Bulb to be Banned

If consumers haven’t begun buying new fangled and more efficient light bulbs yet, they soon won’t have any other choice.

A federal law passed in 2007 will slowly dim out the all-purpose incandescent bulb as we know it, requiring more energy efficient bulbs starting in 2012.

And by 2014, the incandescent light bulb as created by Thomas Edison in 1879 will be all but banned for most uses.

The goal is to reduce energy usage by U.S. households. The United States is following in the footsteps of the European Union and Australia which have already implemented tougher light bulb standards.

The incandescent bulb, intrinsic to modern life, also is highly inefficient. It generates about 90 percent heat and 10 percent light from the energy it uses.

But if consumers are looking dimly on the phase-out, it’s also a logistical issue for retailers like Atlanta-based Home Depot.

“It is going to be a huge shift,” said Jorge Fernandez, Home Depot’s lighting buyer.

He said he’s already planning now for 2012, as it takes several years of preparation to be sure manufacturers can supply what his 2,000 U.S. stores will need. Most of Home Depot’s light bulb suppliers are in China, he said.

Home Depot sells hundreds of millions of bulbs per year, he said.

A big section of Home Depot’s light bulb aisle already is dedicated to high-efficiency bulbs, mainly compact fluorescents, known as CFLs. They come in a variety of watt equivalents and light hues, from soft light to a bright daylight.

Lowe’s has a similar aisle, while Target, Kroger and Publix give bulbs much less shelf space, but compete in the segment nonetheless.

On a recent day, one shopper at an Atlanta Lowe’s store said she had several concerns about the light bulb switch. The high price of CFLs was one problem. Her eyes grew wide at the $10.98 price tag on a 2-pack of CFL bulbs. She didn’t buy them. She also bristled at the fact these supposedly more environmentally friendly bulbs contain mercury. (Home Depot will take the CFL bulbs back at their stores for recycling, but it’s still a sticking point for some shoppers.)

The customer also complained about the poor light quality of CFLs.

For this story, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution purchased 13 different kinds of CFL bulbs at three retailers. All the bulbs were equivalent to a 60-watt incandescent bulb in light output.

Only one – the Philips EnergySaver Automatic On/Off light that sells for $9.97 at Home Depot — had a pleasing light color similar to a 60-watt incandescent. The rest were either too harsh, with strong blue or green hues, or too yellow, with light that seemed dirty.

Most of the CFLs, from brands such as GE from Kroger, Bright Effects from Lowe’s or N:Vision from Home Depot, also took time to warm up.

Such issues with CFLs are leading retailers to encourage innovation among suppliers.

For Fernandez, who wants Home Depot to be well position by 2012 with consumer-pleasing bulbs, the race is on to find new and affordable technologies that will duplicate the light quality of incandescent bulbs.

Fernandez is closely watching technology companies that are experimenting with light-emitting diodes (LEDs).

“I think LED lights are going to knock people’s socks off. But they are too expensive,” he said. “We’re working to drive that price down.”

On a recent day, Home Depot stocked two kinds of LED lamps by Philips. Both floodlights use 15 watts of electricity. One sold for $49.97 and the other for $69.97.

Of course, the argument for CFLs and LEDs is they make up for their price by using less energy and lasting longer than incandescent bulbs.

Fernandez explains LEDs are a next generation technology that could satisfy consumers’ desire for a softer light and they don’t contain mercury like CFLs. But the cost is prohibitive, he concedes.

Lowe’s also recently rolled out a 40-watt LED bulb for $29.98 by Sylvania, according to spokeswoman Abby Buford. She said Lowe’s is “working very closely with vendors like Sylvania” on innovative bulbs.

But 2009 wasn’t the year for a lot of high-priced additions to the market. Sales of CFL bulbs plunged last year, said Fernandez, as customers traded down from higher- to lower-priced bulbs. Fernandez expects bulb sales at Home Depot to be “close to flat” for the year, but down nationally.

The cheapest CFL lights purchased by the AJC for this story came from Kroger, where they were on sale with a Kroger Plus Card for as low as $2. Most of the others, however, rang in at $3.50 or more.

Incandescent bulbs can be purchased for a fraction of that cost. A four-pack of 100-watt bulbs sells for as little as 85 cents at Publix.

Retailers also are looking for innovative incandescent bulbs that meet the tougher energy standards. One example is the Philips Halogena Energy Saver sold by Home Depot, said Fernandez. It’s about 30 percent more efficient than a regular incandescent.

Still, Lowe’s Buford worries that consumers are unaware the shift is coming.

She cited a study that light-maker Osram Sylvania released on Dec. 16, showing that the vast majority of consumers don’t know about the impending phase-out of incandescent bulbs.

Craig Updyke is a government relations manager for the National Electrical Manufacturers Association, a trade group based in Rosslyn, Va. His group helped mold the light bulb bill that passed, but he said not much has been done by government agencies to publicize the changes.

He predicts there could be a consumer backlash similar to the one that delayed the implementation of digital television signals, as well as a run on the old incandescent lights

“I think there will be people stockpiling these bulbs,” said Updyke.

Source: Rachel Tobin Ramos


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