Musings on optics, physics, astronomy, technology and life

Posts tagged ‘energy’

A couple of “not quite…” moments

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.

Spotlighting Those New Bulb Choices

In today’s New York Times, writer Bob Tedeschi has an entertainingly written piece on the new federal light-bulb rules that will go into effect next January. It’s certainly worth a read, if only because next January marks the start of another election year, and you just know that some presidential or senatorial hopeful is going to scream, “The government wants to outlaw your light bulbs!”

As Tedeschi points out early on, the new law doesn’t ban incandescent bulbs entirely; it only places new standards for energy efficiency on them. I pointed this out when I blogged about the then-new law in December 2007. Assuming that the rest of the news media reported correctly on this legislation when it was passed, anyone who claims the government is banning light bulbs is misinformed (or willfully misinforming the audience).

Tedeschi also introduces newspaper readers to a few phrases and concepts that optics folks are already familiar with, such as “lumens,” “correlated color temperature” and “color rendering index.” He seems to find it odd that a bluer light has a higher color temperature than a yellower light. Personally, I learned this from a book on the fundamentals of photography back in the… OK, I won’t cop to how long ago it was, but let’s just say that it was back in the days of film-based photography, and you had to know whether your color film was balanced for “daylight” or “tungsten.” And I hadn’t yet encountered E = hν in a college physics class.

In a related blog post, Tedeschi seeks to allay some of the concerns frequently expressed about compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), namely the environmental costs and the mercury content.

Tedeschi ends the main article (the online version, at least) with two series of “bullet points”: a list of suggested lighting choices by room (bathroom, kitchen, etc.) and “tips for buying bulbs in the complex world to be ushered in by the new lighting law” (take it slow, study up, brands count, read the label, experiment, consult others). He also throws out this interesting tidbit: some women “perceive a much better spectrum of colors” than men because they have more types of color receptors in their retinas. Maybe that’s why some men can’t tell the difference between taupe, tan, bone and ivory….

More on the light bulb controversy

The CLEO conference blog has reprinted an entry by James Van Howe, of “Jim’s CLEO Blog,” summarizing the controversy over the new lighting regulations and — helpfully — pointing out some sessions at CLEO 2011 that address the technical challenges of making LED lighting better for all of us to use.

Incidentally, CLEO 2011 will take place during the first week of May in Baltimore, about an hour’s drive from Our Nation’s Capital. I wonder whether any lawmakers are going to show up?