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Fluorescent Mythconceptions: Salon and Jane Brox Wrong About CFLs

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Jane Brox, Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial LightIn catching up on my backlog of Salon reading over the weekend, the headline of one story in particular caught my eye: “Brilliant”: Prepare for the fluorescent future. The piece—a Q&A with Jane Brox about her book, Brilliant: The Evolution of Artificial Light—has an interesting premise, and touches on a few topics relevant to HomeTechTell (The Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, compact fluorescent bulbs, LEDs, OLED lights, the energy grid) and my own geeky proclivities (astronomy, light pollution, chaos).

Unfortunately, it’s so riddled with errors and misconceptions from the get-go, one has to wonder if Brox’s book is worth perusing at all. To wit, the following exchange comes early in the back-and-forth:

All of these lights have a much colder tinge to them than incandescent lights. Are we just going to have to get used to living under less warm-looking light?

I think so. Compact fluorescents and LEDs have a colder cast to them. I hope we’re not condemned to a future of cold blue-ish light. But we’re not there yet in terms of something that’s both affordable and can be produced for everybody throughout the country.

The problem is, this is patently false. I have compact fluorescents here in my home that just as “warm” (that is to say, less blue) than the two or three incandescents I’ve yet to replace in rarely used parts of the house.

But that isn’t the first glaring mistake in the piece; twice before that, interviewer Thomas Rogers and Brox both perpetuate the myth that incandescent lights are going to be phased out, no longer sold in stores. That’s not quite true.

It’s not entirely correct to say “CFLs will be required” or “incandescents will be phased out” because the standards set by the bill are technology neutral, and by 2012, a next generation of incandescent bulbs could satisfy the 30% increased efficiency. There are also other lighting technologies, such as halogen and LEDs that will be able to meet the new requirements and are expected to both increase in performance and drop in cost over the next few years.

There are many types of incandescent bulbs that are exempt from this law:

  • any kind of specialty light (ie. bulb in refrigerator)
  • reflector bulbs
  • 3-way bulbs
  • candelabras
  • globes
  • shatter resistant
  • vibration service
  • rough service
  • colored bulbs (i.e. "party bulbs")
  • bug lights
  • plant lights

As I said, I haven’t read Brox’s book, so these few misconceptions may be minor points in a much larger story. But if the goal of this Q&A was to entice me to read Brilliant, it failed miserably. The greening up of home technology is large enough hurdle in and of itself; misinformation like this can only serve to make people even more resistant to change.

For more-factual, less-hysterical (although admittedly corporate) updates on the transition to more efficient lighting, keep an eye on the Alliance to Save Energy‘s website.

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