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