Energy Conservation compact fluorescent lightbulb in green grass

Published on October 31st, 2008 | by Timothy B. Hurst

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New Report Suggests CFLs Could Cut Global Lighting Energy Demand by 40%

compact fluorescent lightbulb in green grass

[social_buttons]A new report suggests that with an aggressive replacement program, compact fluorescent light bulbs (CFLs) could drastically cut global lighting demand and begin reducing greenhouse gas emissions immediately. Fresh off the recent announcement that the European Union had banned incandescent light bulbs, the report, prepared by the Worldwatch Institute, suggests that replacing incandescents with compact fluorescents could reduce global lighting energy demand by 40%.

By 2030, these savings would add up to 16.6 billion tons of carbon dioxide — more than twice the amount released in the United States every year. Accurate global data is not available for total CFL use, but strong growth in CFL production and sales can be seen worldwide. Sales of CFLs in the U.S. alone rose by more than 300 percent early in the decade, growing to 397 million units in 2007. At the same time, the total number of CFLs in use worldwide nearly doubled from an estimated 1.8 billion to 3.5 billion in 2003, the report found.

Of course, one of the most persistent criticisms of CFLs is that they contain dangerous levels of mercury, and without aggressive recycling programs that keep CFLs out of the landfill, the potential environmental impact could be devastating. Several large recycling initiatives have been launched including from the two large retailers Home Depot and Ikea.  But the report also points out that for consumers who rely on coal-fired electricity, one of the largest sources of mercury emissions, the increased energy efficiency of these bulbs means that over its lifetime a CFL-even if it is broken or thrown away-will release significantly less mercury into the environment than an incandescent bulb would.

A global campaign would need to be an aggressive one, especially in the developing world, where the incentive to install the more expensive compact fluorescent bulbs is primarily economic. Some organizations have begun educating consumers in developing countries about CFLs, focusing largely on the money-saving benefits of installing energy efficient light bulbs, but the area seems ripe for more.

What do you think? How can simple and relatively inexpensive technologies like these be more quickly diffused and introduced in places where they can have the greatest and most immediate impact?

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About the Author

is the founder of ecopolitology and the executive editor at LiveOAK Media, a media network about the politics of energy and the environment, green business, cleantech, and green living. When not reading, writing, thinking or talking about environmental politics with anyone who will listen, Tim spends his time skiing in Colorado's high country, hiking with his dog, and getting dirty in his vegetable garden.



  • Mark

    I’ve been using CFL’s since ’94, when they cost considerably more. In our home I counted 21 CFL’s in the loft/kitchen/greatroom area that could light the central area of the home. In all, I would estimate that I use over 50 CFL’s at he home including uotdoor floods and trail lights.

  • http://www.xemion.com/out.php?id=24062&728407775 website designs

    Light bulbs will not save the world – but they are a start.

  • http://redgreenandblue.org Tim H.

    Ollie-
    All of the figures come from the Worldwatch Report. Unfortunately, to follow through on the references they use to reach those conclusions, you need to shell out the $10 for the report.

    I’m curious about your observation that the majority of lamps out there that use incandescents could not be retro-fitted with a CFL. Perhaps this is the case in some parts of the world and not others? Where are you writing from? Here in the U.S., the vast majority of bulbs will take a regular size CFL, and for those that don’t, would a mini-CFL fit?

  • Ollie

    Where are the figures for incandescent usage coming from, and what types of incandescent lamps are we talking about?
    Just from personal observation, the majority of incandescent light fittings that I can see are minature halogen type lamps. But a CFL lamp will not fit in this type of fitting. The amount of standard bayonet and/or Edison screw type fittings around – which most CFLs fit into – is small.
    I realise that there is a type of CFL lamp available that fits into a halogen type lamp base, but these are still very much a niche product. And also, they are quite ugly, which defeats the point of installing halogen lamp bases in the first place.

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