I knew Tom Edison. Mitt, You’re no Tom Edison.

March 21, 2012

Mitt Romney pandered to yet another bogus right wing shibboleth, the so-called “light bulb ban”

Washington Post: 

“And the government would have banned Thomas Edison’s light bulb. Oh yeah, Obama’s regulators actually did just that.”

— Mitt Romney, March 19, 2012

During an economic speech on Monday, the former Massachusetts governor and presidential hopeful charged that the Obama administration “banned” Thomas Edison’s light bulb.

Really? Let’s take a look at this contentious issue.

The Facts

Thomas Edison did not invent the incandescent light bulb, but he did make it commercially viable, filing his first patent for improvements in 1878. And, then 129 years later, President George W. Bush signed into law the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007.

The bill passed both Houses of Congress with big bipartisan votes — 264 to 163 in the House of Representatives and 65 to 27 in the Senate. When Bush signed it, he lauded it for including “revisions to improve energy efficiency in lighting and appliances.”

One of those revisions included minimum efficiency standards, requiring common light bulbs use at least 25 percent less electricity. The regulations were due to take effect for 100 watt bulbs at the beginning of 2012, but a nine-month delay in enforcement was added in an agreement to avoid a government shutdown late last year.

Incandescent bulbs are remarkably inefficient, converting less than 10 percent of the energy they use into light and more than 90 percent into heat. As the Congressional Research Service put it, “some critics refer to traditional incandescent bulbs as ‘resistance heaters that also give off light.’”  So the new law was designed to save billions of dollars in electricity costs and reduce carbon emissions.

The law does not ban or specifically prohibit incandescent light bulbs, but they must meet the new efficiency standards. As a practical matter, that means many of the cheap bulbs now being sold will no longer be manufactured as they are replaced by new, more efficient bulbs.

The up-front cost of the new bulbs is likely to be higher, but over time the bulbs are supposed to pay for themselves because they lose less energy and do not need to be replaced as often.

Moreover, the industry is already responding, not just to the U.S. law but similar efficiency standards that have been mandated in countries around the world. American manufacturers have invested millions of dollars to meet the law’s requirements and are not about to change course now.

Getting back to Romney’s comment, it’s a little difficult to know how Edison would have responded to today’s regulations, though, as Plum Line noted, Edison was a Republican back in the days when Republicans favored more regulation than Democrats.

But it is simply incorrect to say that “Obama’s regulators” banned the incandescent bulb.

Clearly Mitt didn’t have anyone contact Edison’s great grandson, who recently wrote in Politico:

If my great-grandfather, Thomas Edison, were alive today, I have no doubt he’d view Congress as most Americans do — with anger and disgust. His reasons would be personal, however. The House Republicans’ effort to stifle lighting innovation flies in the face of everything this great American innovator and path-breaking businessman stood for.

So what’s the light bulb kerfuffle about? Starting Jan. 1, the bulbs you buy must be more efficient and use less electricity, under a 2007 law signed by President George W. Bush.

This would have thrilled my great-grandfather. Edison was one of history’s most prolific inventors, with nearly 1,100 patents involving electricity, the phonograph, one of the first ticker tapes and much more.

Many, if not most, of his inventions involved making things work better and more efficiently. He would have been at the forefront of efforts to do the same with his light bulb. After all, innovation and invention defined him.

Somehow, though, this new efficiency law is being demonized and misrepresented by a small group of political ideologues in and out of Congress. They have spun a fear-mongering tale that has left some Americans confused and frightened. There are crazy claims that incandescent light bulbs will be banned, and that Big Brother government is running your life.

This is nonsense. The new standards don’t outlaw the incandescent bulb. Instead, they have spurred much needed innovation and improvements — the kind Edison loved. You are still able to buy incandescent bulbs. The difference is they will use less electricity and cut energy costs.

Luckily, House Republicans’ latest effort to derail this with a legislative rider that defunds enforcement for a few months amounts to little more than a speed bump on the road to the light bulb revolution.

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11 Responses to “I knew Tom Edison. Mitt, You’re no Tom Edison.”


  1. Replacing incandescent bulbs is practically a “no brainer”. Compact fluorescents pay for themselves many times over and anyone who buys them saves money, and the country saves energy. A no-lose scenario. (Except maybe for the light bulb and electric power lobbies.)

  2. greenman3610 Says:

    actually, lighting companies like the law just fine, and can’t figure out why brainless tea bagger blowhards are making such a fuss.

    http://climatecrocks.com/2011/08/03/bonehead-barton-bulb-bill-bulletin-lighting-leader-lauds-luminary-law/


  3. I’ve read that incandescent light bulbs are even worse than you say — they waste almost 98%, I think. Really big bulbs like 200W are a little less bad; as they convert a whopping 2.7% of that power into light.

    I recently replaced four ceiling lights that each used a 200W incandescent bulb with fixtures that used three 13W CFL’s each. These are brighter, and have virtually the same color temperature (2700K) and the whole room is lit with a total of 156W (vs 800W before).

    Neil

    • greenman3610 Says:

      it used to be that “conservative” meant self control, enlightened self interest, moderation, prudence and wisdom.
      Now, “conservative” has become the badge of a certain kind of infantile, “you are not the boss of me” yahoo, that equates the amount of fuel he can burn with his masculinity or sense of worth. It’s the product of years of very deliberate psychological targeting by sophisticated republican operatives. So now they’ve reached their mecca – idiocracy.


  4. The Home Depot near me is selling “40W-equivalent” (9W actual) LED bulbs for ten bucks each. Got a bunch of recessed 60W light fixtures in the kitchen ceiling. The dimmer switch rules out fluorescents. Replaced all the incandescent bulbs with the $10 LED’s. They seem to put out every bit as much light as the old incandescents (subjective assessment), but together consume only 81W vs. the previous 540. They light up the kitchen like daylight.

    At our current electric rates, they’ll pay for themselves in less than two years.

  5.   Says:

    It is in effect a Ban: Phase 2 of EISA which follows after 2014 has 45
    lumen per W as end regulation,
    which no known incandescent can reach including touted 2012 halogens
    (typically 20-22 lumen per W).
    Besides, the halogen replacements have different light quality etc and
    cost much more for marginal savings, which is why neither consumers or
    politicians like them (no “Halogen replacement programs” as with
    CFLs!)

    http://ceolas.net/#li01inx =
    Standards and exceptions, and 10 local state bills repealing federal
    light bulb laws
    (legislated Texas June 2011, South Carolina bill due for Gov Nikki
    Haley for signing )

  6.  lighthouse Says:

    Actually, it is in effect a Ban:
    Phase 2 of EISA which follows after 2014 has 45
    lumen per W as end regulation,
    which no known incandescent can reach including touted 2012 halogens
    (typically 20-22 lumen per W).
    Besides, the halogen replacements have different light quality etc and
    cost much more for marginal savings, which is why neither consumers or
    politicians like them (no “Halogen replacement programs” as with
    CFLs!)

    http://ceolas.net/#li01inx =
    Standards and exceptions, and 10 local state bills repealing federal
    light bulb laws
    (legislated Texas June 2011, South Carolina bill due for Gov Nikki
    Haley for signing )

  7.  lighthouse Says:

    Re Heat output

    95% compared to -always ignored – 80% for CFLs and 70% for LEDs

    Also, incandescent heat is radiated externally,
    CFL and LED heat is largely retained internally among their components.

    That means
    1. The radiated heat is not necessarily wasted (research referenced
    http://ceolas.net/#li6x) and any bulb use is of course voluntary with
    air conditioning cooling

    2. Internalized CFL and LED bulb heat gives a greater unpredictable
    fire risk, especially with CFLs (http//ceolas.net/#li18eax)
    Incandescents can of course burn lampshades etc, but the fire risk is
    more predictable and preventible.

    A fraction of 1% of US energy is saved in a light bulb switchover,
    as referenced with US dept of energy data, along with a lot of other deception arguments justifying regulations

    http://dunday.com/p/deception-behind-banning-light-bulbs.html

    All lighting has advantages, and while it’s always good to save energy, light bulb regulations are a pointless way for society to do it, compared to generation, grid and alternative consumption ways, as listed.

    • rwpikul Says:

      Math lesson for the day:

      If you replace a light bulb that wastes 95% of its energy as heat with one that wastes 80%, by what percentage do you reduce waste heat?

      Let W1 be the wattage of the less 95% bulb.
      Let W2 be the wattage of the 80% bulb.
      Let L be the amount of light energy desired.

      Let S be the relative reduction in waste heat.

      1) S = 1- ((W2 – L)/(W1 – L))
      2) W1 – L = 0.95 W1
      3) W2 – L = 0.80 W2
      Rearranging gives L = 0.20 W2

      Substitute 3 into 2:
      W1 – 0.20 W2 = 0.95 W1
      Rearranging gives 0.05 W1 = 0.20 W2
      or 4) W1 = 4 W2

      Substitute 4 into 2:
      5) W1 – L = 0.95 * 4 W2 = 3.8 W2

      Substitute 3 and 5 into 1:
      S = 1 – (0.80 W2)/(3.8 W2)
      S = 0.789

      That’s a _79%_ reduction in waste heat, not the 16% you seemed to be trying to imply.

      •  lighthouse Says:

        Thanks Rwpikul,
        whatever about your figures another way of looking at it is that 20% lighting is 4x better than 5% lighting.

        However, I was not ” implying” anything other than the correct relative percentages heat emitted
        - at least you acknowledge that the others emit heat too, unlike pro-ban politicians

        Besides, re “waste” you keep talking about,
        radiated heat from incandescents (unlike heat internally with CFLs) is likely not a waste in the first place
        When it’s dark it’s often cold, and while certainly noone heats their room with bulbs, it is simply a useful side-effect of the lighting purpose – as referenced and with plenty of research behind it, as seen.

        I happen to agree with energy saving ideas,
        unlike most against the bans

        But, as said, all lighting has advantages, and light bulb regulations are a pointless way for society to save energy, compared to generation, grid and alternative consumption ways, via links


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