Musings on optics, physics, astronomy, technology and life

First off, let me apologize for not posting interesting thoughts to this blog as soon as they pop into my mind (or as soon as I read them elsewhere on the Internet). Recently I just finished one feature-length article for Optics & Photonics News (OPN), and I have a second one due in less than two weeks.  Plus, I’m working on a shorter article and some other projects. You can always follow my Twitter feed or “Like” my Facebook page.

Anyhow, here’s what I’ve been reading….

First off, a couple of Fridays ago (March 9, to be exact), the Washington Post had a front-page story screaming, “Affordability award goes to a $50 light bulb” (or “Government-subsidized green light bulb carries costly price tag” on the Web version). Apparently, the winner of the U.S. Energy Department’s “L Prize” award for innovation in energy-efficient lighting is a lamp that costs $50 per bulb. Since practically all of us American adults have grown up in the era of ultra-cheap incandescent bulbs, that seems almost prohibitively expensive, doesn’t it? Especially since the story was accompanied by an infographic that claimed that it would be cheaper for a household to buy 30 inefficient incandescent bulbs (which generate more heat than light) over 10 years than to buy just one of the super-efficient prize-winning lamps.

As my high school chemistry teacher used to say, “Yah, but….” As it turned out, the original infographic had gotten the math wrong. As it turns out, if you stuck with incandescents for your favorite lamp, over the next decade it would cost you $228 — $30 for 30 bulbs and $198 for 1,800 kWh of electricity. However, you could spend the next decade using the $50 bulb in your lamp and expend only 300 kWh of electricity, for a grand total of $83.

Hat tip to the Media Matters for America blog for pointing out the change in the infographic, as well as straightening out the often-distorted reporting about the coming changes in our light-generating technologies. I’m really getting sick and tired of hearing politicians tag President Obama with the alleged “light-bulb ban” when his predecessor, President George W. Bush, was the guy who actually signed the relevant legislation. If it didn’t happen during the Bush administration, then how come I wrote about it back then?

However … At least the Post‘s “Fact Checker” blogger got things right when he pointed out that Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney attributed the “ban” on incandescent bulbs to “Obama’s regulators.” The blog gave Romney three Pinocchios (out of four), meaning “(s)ignificant factual error and/or obvious contradictions,” for that one.

Remember, folks, incandescent bulbs aren’t going to be “banned” — they’re just going to be held to a much higher energy-efficiency standard, and if they can’t cut the mustard, well, so be it. That’s “not quite” a ban.


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