October 31st, 2008 by Timothy B. Hurst
[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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