print this page

CFL Savings Exaggerated?

Energy savings for CFL bulbs may be overstatedPeople like the idea of saving energy and saving money, especially in a tough economy with electricity rates that are, at times, tough to swallow. When compact fluorescent light bulbs hit mainstream America several years ago, consumers jumped at the idea of spending more for a light bulb that used less electricity and lasted for years.

If the result of an experiment in California is any indication, though, we may all have rushed a little too quickly to support the energy and money-saving message spread by CFL bulb manufacturers.

The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 requires a 25 percent increase in energy efficiency for most standard consumer light bulbs beginning in 2012, and phases out traditional incandescent light bulbs over the following two years until they are removed from store shelves in 2014.

However, California has preempted the federal law and instituted its own incandescent bulb phase-out, launching a plan Jan. 1 that will spend $548 million over seven years to subsidize consumers’ purchases of CFL bulbs. The deal has been kind to California consumers — who pay an average of $1.30 for the $4 bulbs, which are made in China — but the bulbs have not lived up to the hype.

During a 2006–08 statewide pilot program, PG&E Corp, a California utility, found that energy savings related to CFL bulbs were 73 percent less than expected, and that the CFL bulbs burned out about three years earlier than expected.

Although experts agree that CFL bulbs save energy and last longer when compared to traditional incandescent bulbs, California’s results indicate that the benefits of using CFL bulbs may be significantly overstated.


- “Can Energy-Efficient CFL Bulbs Walk The Green Walk?Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Jan. 19, 2011.
- “The New Light Bulbs Lose a Little Shine,” The Wall Street Journal, Jan. 19, 2011.

3/8/2011 10:33:00 AM