Compact fluorescent lights hit a wall Industry shines on hopes for future LEDs

 Great report by Steve Gelsi of Marketwarch.


 By Steve Gelsi, MarketWatch

NEW YORK (MarketWatch) -- With sales of pricy compact fluorescent bulbs slowed to a stop by the recession, the lighting industry is sharpening its focus on light emitting diodes in the hope this next-generation technology can rev up sales.

While the cost of a compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulb has fallen as low as $2.50 each in multi-packs, old fashioned light bulbs sell for 40 cents apiece, helping the older incandescent technology maintain its glow.

Major bulb makers GE /quotes/comstock/13*!ge/quotes/nls/ge (GE 12.94, -0.74, -5.41%) , Siemens AG /quotes/comstock/13*!si/quotes/nls/si (SI 66.61, -3.91, -5.55%) and Philips gathering at the Lightfair International show this week in New York City looked toward the next generation of light emitting diodes (LEDs) as the next big thing in modern illumination.

While CFL sales now comprise a big chunk of the industry -- 20% or more at some companies -- the business has edged lower over the past 12 months.

Lighting Industry Pioneering a Better, Energy-Saving Bulb

MarketWatch's Steve Gelsi reports from the 2009 Lightfair International conference, where offering more illumination for less power and less money is now the name of the game. He discusses compact florescent lamps, or CFLs, with actor and activist Ed Begley Jr. and light emitting diodes, or LEDs, with Ostram Sylvania CEO Charles Jerabek.

"It's a problem all of industry has right now because times are pretty tough and the economy isn't growing," said Charles Jerabek, CEO of Osram Sylvania, a unit of Siemens. "It just puts a further challenge on us."

Light makers are showing off a growing stable of LED lights. With New York City and other major urban areas already using LEDs in traffic lights, the industry hopes to add to its success with street lights.

LEDs last much longer than CFLs and contain no mercury, a setback faced by compact fluorescent light bulbs.

Actor Ed Begley Jr., a speaker at Lightfair International and a well-known green power advocate in the entertainment industry, argued that CFLs help cut harmful emissions from coal-fired electricity plants by saving power, even though they contain some toxic materials.

"You're better to buy the (CFL) bulb even with that miniscule amount of mercury -- about the same as in a couple of cans of tuna -- and then recycle it at Ikea or Home Depot," Begley said. "If you don't buy the bulb you're putting more mercury into the air where you can't reclaim it."

Begley also championed the use of longer-lasting LED lighting now being deployed in the motion picture and TV industries as a way for studios to cut down on electricity bills and the expensive labor costs of changing bulbs.

Sylvania just introduced its first direct LED competitor to the 40-watt light bulb. The LED bulb uses 8 watts of power to produce about the same amount of light as a 40-watt bulb. The LED bulb's expected life of 25,000 hours amounts to eight times the life of a conventional light bulb. However, at a current cost of $50 each, the new bulb isn't quite ready for prime time.

Industry mavens hope to bring the cost down over time as they move past the less efficient incandescent bulb, which inadvertently turns most of the energy powering it into heat instead of light.

For this reason and others, Congress in 2007 approved a phase-out of incandescent bulbs starting with the 40-watt bulb in 2012.

Begley, who owns an electric car that he uses solar cells to recharge, said LED light bulbs could eventually take their place as the next big thing to save energy cheaply.

"I was a broke, struggling actor in 1970 -- I did the cheap and easy stuff that was available" to be green, he said. "There's many more choices today. CFLs are affordable to anyone today. You'll save money right away with energy-saving thermostats, weather stripping around your doors and windows."

Meanwhile, the trade group NEMA is expected to release its first-quarter survey of CFL sales next week. In the fourth quarter of 2008, the incandescent share of household lamp sales increased slightly to 77.5%, as consumers eschewed costlier CFLs.

Steve Gelsi is a reporter for MarketWatch in New York.

Be the first to rate this post

  • Currently 0/5 Stars.
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Compact Fluorescent, to be or not to be?

Many people today are looking to save money on their energy costs and one of the biggest marketing campaigns to entice consumers into the "green energy movement" is the use of Compact Fluorescent Bulbs (CFLs). Although these bulb types are in fact more efficient, what the movement fails to mention are the esthetic downsides of using them. The biggest downside that comes to mind is the dimming factor. Even though the technology does allow for dimming, the CFLs dimming capacity compared to the traditional incandescent bulbs doesn't come close. In some applications dimming is better than others, however it normally requires especial pricey components to accompany the CFL. The fact of the matter is that the CFL technology is not quite ready to force the incandescent bulb out of the market, but in the near future there is definitely a brighter outlook.

The article below further explains the details of the current technology and it's affects in the market place and the environment.

Why Efficient Light Bulbs Fail to Thrive By Leora Broydo Vestel

Michael Siminovitch, the director of the California Lighting Technology Center at the University of California, Davis, says C.F.L.s could be much better than they are.

Reader response to two recent Green Inc. posts made it very clear that while compact fluorescent light bulbs are undeniably more efficient, many consumers find them less than appealing.

Affirmation of this dissatisfaction comes from an unlikely source: Michael Siminovitch, a self-described C.F.L. advocate and a professor and director of the California Lighting Technology Center at the University of California, Davis.

Mr Siminovitch said the technology exists to create C.F.L.s that are comparable to incandescent bulbs. “They can be configured and made today with great color,” he said. “They can also be dimmed. They can also be put together in such a way that they last for a very long time.”

And yet, Mr. Siminovitch said, many manufacturers have been cutting corners and putting C.F.L.s of lesser quality on the market, skewing consumers’ perception of the technology.

Green Inc. recently chatted with Mr. Siminovitch about light bulb performance and efficiency, consumer expectations and “Super C.F.L.s,” among other things. Excerpts follow:


Green Inc. readers have expressed frustration about the quality of compact fluorescents following recent postings. Do you think their criticisms are legitimate?

I think we’re actually seeing heightened awareness of these problems and issues. People are interested in engaging in the energy efficiency equation, [and] what’s happening is that they’re bumping their heads against this now. They’re saying that, hey, this stuff is falling short.

How are they falling short?

A consumer buys a light source to look good and to provide quality lighting inside a space. They don’t normally go to a store to buy a light source to save energy.

Incandescent light sources typically are very flattering in terms of rendering skin and enhancing how we look. Consumers got used to a very high level of color quality in the home. Compact fluorescents can be some departure or produce less color quality in terms of rendering color inside a space.

“Certainly we’re asking consumers to do a lot more than they used to do.”

Michael Siminovitch

Some fluorescents are very good, but many are not. I think what we’re seeing today is we’re starting to bump up against our expectations for color quality in the home not being met by the energy efficient technologies. So consumers are dissatisfied — and rightfully so.

The next big [issue] is dimming. Many fluorescents that are available do not dim well. Incandescent lamps dim very nicely. They dim all the way from 100 percent light all the way to 0 percent light. They do it very smoothly and very predictably. Consumers are used to that kind of smooth dimming.

Typically when you dim a compact fluorescent it can flicker, it can buzz, it can create all kinds of what I call “unintended consequences” that disturb the consumer. So the consumer is left with a less-than-satisfied level with this kind of technology.

The third big one is product longevity. Consumers have an expectation that compact fluorescents will last a very long time — significantly longer than the incandescents that they’re replacing. This is technically achievable. Compact fluorescents can last a very long time. Unfortunately, I think we’ve compromised greatly on quality with many compact fluorescents and these things are not lasting quite as long as consumers have been led to believe. This is an issue.

How did we end up with such a low-quality product?

Early compact fluorescents came into the marketplace as a … technology that’s small, very compact and can fit in places where we traditionally put incandescent lamps, and it has the opportunity for great color, long life and all the kinds of attributes we’d like to see in a light source. But it was expensive. It was an order of magnitude more expensive than what we were traditionally using.

“In the case of compact fluorescents,” says Mr. Siminovitch, “we’ve compromised on quality.”

So there was great pressure by agencies, by retailers, to bring the cost down on this technology so that we can get big market penetration. Unfortunately, given the lack of really good, understandable specifications, what happened was when you reduce price you inevitably compromise something. In the case of compact fluorescents, we’ve compromised on quality.

By and large the average consumer is buying a light source to provide the right quality of light. In this continuing trend to reduce cost, which is an important driver, we compromised quality.

We’ve gone too far on this thing, and what’s happened is some of these compact fluorescent technologies have become so inexpensive [that] at the same time they’ve lost a lot of their intrinsic quality. And they don’t last very long. And this is bad because the end result here is that yes, we have a very inexpensive technology, consumers will buy it, but they have a long memory.

Product failures instill a lack of confidence in the technology.

What needs to happen to change this light bulb?

When we only encourage energy efficiency, which is very important, we compromise other issues. The market penetration for compact fluorescents in this country, while we’re making good strides, is not very impressive. There’s no reason today why we shouldn’t be using all energy efficient technologies in the home. The reason we’re not is consumers don’t like this technology.

We need to get past that. We need to develop a lighting technology that people really like. They like the color, they like the quality, they like the delivery, and, by the way, it’s energy efficient. …

We need to encourage the industry to do that. The industry is in a very good position to do this. Once we have the education of what we need in the home, the industry can come in and make it.

But consumers are already complaining about the cost of compact fluorescents compared to incandescents. Isn’t increasing quality going to make the price of compact fluorescents go up?

Prices are coming down significantly for this technology, but as I said, there is corresponding reduction in quality. With a tighter specification that speaks to quality issues I think eventually we would see both a maintenance or increase in quality, as well as reduced costs with increased volume.

The main issue here is that there is not a level playing field, and that high quality products tend to be penalized in the marketplace because of the demand for low-cost. If we define a level playing field, then the economies of scale can be applied equally, and we maintain quality while reducing cost.

What can consumers do today to get the highest quality compact fluorescent?

A consumer should do the best job they can to educate themselves on what kinds of light sources are available for the home. And certainly we’re asking consumers to do a lot more than they used to do. If you would go into any hardware store and buy an incandescent lamp they’re all virtually exactly the same. That’s the strength of that technology. They all look the same, they all work the same and they all have great color. The only problem with them is they’re very inefficient.

Moving to compact fluorescent technology is going to require a consumer to become more educated. I think they need to be guided by the kinds of product information that’s available now. Now, the information that’s available now is still not adequate, but it’s better than it was. I look at things like Energy Star. Energy Star is a sorting process where you can see that there’s some minimum standard that these lamps will achieve.

What we’re looking at down the road is a better specification as we get more knowledge to say here’s a light source that really, really works well, sort of an Energy Star plus. I think that’s going to come.

What about California’s “Super C.F.L.” effort?

Here in California there’s a broad collaborative with the utilities to look at next-generation specifications for high-performance compact fluorescents for the home. Also, I think that we’re going to see a big drive down the road with L.E.D., light-emitting diode technology.

But if I look at the near-term horizon, the next one to four years, the bulk of the energy savings that we’re going to get in this country in the lighting arena for residential is going to be compact fluorescents. L.E.D.s are going to follow very quickly, I think that’s going to be another next-big opportunity for us for both energy efficiency and also product amenity.

Compact fluorescent is very close to being a big opportunity to save a lot of energy. By and large there’s going to be a fairly massive market transformation as we convert from incandescent technology to high-efficiency technologies. This is going to require a rapid movement up the learning curve both from consumers and also from manufacturers and their ability to provide the kinds of technologies that consumers want.

This orginal article was written by Leora Broydo Vestel and can be found here.

Be the first to rate this post

  • Currently 0/5 Stars.
  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5