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Apr 19, 2008

The CFL Advertising Account

[CFL's are great, except for one little thing]

Fred: Thank you Jim for landing the CFL United ad account. Let's work out the ad campaign.

Mike: I didn't get the memo. What does CFL United do?

Techno: They make Compact Fluorescent Lights. They are like those four foot tubes you see in warehouses, but these are about 1 foot long, really thin, and twisted around so they can fit in a the space of a light bulb. They have a different coating so the light isn't so blue, but more yellow. Sometimes they put a glass bulb around them so they look more regular.

Jim: These CFL's are great. Should be a lot easier to sell than bottled water. They actually save money, use less electricity, and are cooler. Let's just sell them as a win win win.

Fred: Here are the talking points:

  • Costs less
  • Uses 1/4 of the electricity for the same light as from a Regular 100 watt bulb
  • Lasts 10,000 hours compared to 1,000 hours for a regular bulb.
Techno: Uh, they don't cost less. A CFL is $5.00, a Regular is $.50 .

Mike: OK, there is big hit up front, but they save money on electricity, right?

Techno: Over its lifetime of 10,000 hours, a 25 watt CFL uses 250 KWH (kilowatt hours), compared to the same light from 10 Regular 100 watt bulbs, each lasting 1000 hours, and using 1000 KWH total. Here is the summary for 10,000 hours of use, with electricity costing $.10 per KWH.

100 watt Reg 10 bulbs $5.00 1,000 KWH $100.00
 25 watt CFL  1 bulb  $5.00   250 KWH $ 25.00
                                 Saves $75.00
Mike: OK, no problem. Buy 10 CFL's and save $750. Get rich!

Techno: Yeah, if you don't turn them off.

Fred: Is that supposed to be a joke?

Techno: Not really a joke. CFL's are complicated. First, they need a high voltage to operate, which they get from some miniaturized electronics in the base. Second, they have a coating on the inside metal contacts which helps the electricity start flowing. They are hard to get going. When you turn one on, the electronics take some stress and that metal coating evaporates a bit.

Turning one on takes away some of the CFL's life. Once on, no problem. Turn one on and it can last 10,000 hours. If you turn it off, you have to turn it on later, which costs some of its life. So, don't turn it off.

Jim: Whoa! We can't tell people to just leave them on. How long do they last if you turn them off?

Techno: That's hard to say. CFL United isn't too clear about the matter. They don't say, really. And the aftermarket studies don't dwell on this either. But, reasoning backward from some statements here and there, I estimate that the consumer grade CFL loses 5 hours of life each time it is turned on.

Mike: So you get 10,000 hours or 2,000 on/off cycles, whichever comes first. What if I put one in the bathroom? I bet my family turns that light on and off about 10 times a day, for about 5 minutes each time.

Techno: That CFL is going to last about 6 months (200 days). A Regular bulb in that use would last about 39 months. Regular bulbs don't care if they are turned on and off. In that use, the CFL costs $9.89/yr compared to the Regular at $3.04/yr, counting cost of bulbs and electricity. This is mostly the cost of bulbs for the CFL, and the cost of electricity for the Regular.

Mike: (shaking his head slowly) Not good. Not good. Is there anywhere these CFL's can actually be used cost effectively?

Jim: How about the kitchen or family room?

Techno: Yes, if you need to leave them on for a while, CFL's are cost effective. Fluorescent bulbs are always used in warehouses and offices, where they are on for 8-16 hours per day.

Jim: Cut the suspense. How long for our CFL?

Techno: I figure that the break-even is about 20 minutes. If you need the light on for at least 20 minutes, the CFL saves enough on electricity to offset the cost of turning it on, compared to a Regular 100 watt bulb. After that, you actually save money, about $.0075 per hour (3/4 cents).

In the winter, the break-even is 38 minutes, because you benefit from the expensive heat that the Regular bulb puts out. In the summer, the break-even is 15 minutes, because the greater heat of the Regular bulb requires more air-conditioning.

Mike: We're saved. They are actually good for something after all.

Fred: OK people, calm down. We've been through this sort of thing before. We have our campaign.

  • Saves 75% of the electricity of a regular bulb.
  • Lasts 10,000 hours* compared to 1,000 hours for regular bulbs.
  • Saves $50 per bulb over its lifetime, compared to using regular 100 watt bulbs.
  • Environmentally friendly
  • * As measured in bulb-life studies. For maximum bulb life, leave the bulb on for 15 minutes or more for each use.

Jim: I like the part about maximum bulb life. It slyly suggests that even if the bulb might be injured by short uses, you can heal it by leaving it on a bit longer.

Mike: Why do we claim only $50 per bulb in savings?

Fred: Clearly these bulbs aren't going to last 10,000 hours, so we'll claim more reasonable savings, but still big. Since they can use less energy, in the right situations, they are environmentally friendly. Right?

Jim: You have a strange look on your face Techno.

Techno: What about the other facts? Do you guys have my memo?

Mike: I didn't quite read that memo. What's in it?

Techno: There are a few other things.

  • Most CFL's contain about 5 mg of mercury. They are supposed to be disposed of as hazardous waste, but there is no program to take them.
  • They need a careful cleanup if you break one.
  • The twisty ones, with no outer glass bulb, can emit enough UV radiation at 1 foot away to produce a sunburn.
  • If you use them in an enclosed fixture, or base up in the ceiling, the electronics get hot, and its life is reduced. I couldn't find out by how much. There are many manufacturers, and you can't tell how long a brand is going to last, or how it reacts to heat or on/off cycles. You need to trust, or you can always pay more for a higher quality CFL.
  • They are somewhat longer and wider than a regular bulb, so they don't fit everywhere.
  • Many CFL's, especially the $5 ones, have a slow start-up. It takes them 30 seconds to 3 minutes to fully light up. If you use them outdoors in the cold, some of them never fully light up, or they don't start at all.
  • You can't use the cheap CFL's with a dimmer, but there are some that will work.
  • CFL's are fluorescent. Some people get headaches from the light, or they see the 60 cycle flicker and can't read by them, or they hate the color of the light, or they hear a faint buzz.
  • CFL's get 20% dimmer as they age toward failure.
  • A house has many bulbs that are almost never used. It makes no sense to place $5 bulbs in those locations, rather than a $.50 bulb that will last for 5 years anyway.
Jim: That is a lot to handle. How is CFL United going to sell these things?

Fred: Need I remind you that CFL United has hired us? We are helping them sell these things. Also, we are informed that CFL United has done a good job in the US Congress pushing the idea of saving energy. So, everyone is going to buy CFL's, because the Regular bulb is going to be prohibited. Green technology and all of that.

Guys, we have our campaign. Techno, you are always unhappy. CFL's have a few flaws, but there is no need to go into the small details. Let's get the art work in production and sell, sell, sell.


CFL bulbs spark safety fears
01/23/09 - HealthZone.ca Canada by Jen Skerritt of the Canadian Press

[edited] Health Canada is testing compact fluorescent lights. Two months earlier, Britain's Health Protection Agency warned the public that the bulbs emit UV rays.

They recommend that people should not be closer than 30 cm (1 foot) from an energy-saving light bulb for more than one hour per day, saying it is like exposing bare skin to direct summer sunlight. This could cause problems for people with medical conditions like lupus.

The bulbs have been widely promoted in Canada as an easy way to reduce greenhouse gases and are expected to replace incandescent bulbs by 2012 after a federal ban eliminates them.

The first comment is interesting:
[edited] I hate these bulbs. They give me migraines! They do not produce enough light to read by even when they are just behind my shoulder shining on the book page. One out of three malfunctions in some way (breaks etc). They take up to 5 minutes to reach maximum output. I'm usually gone by then. They are the wrong shape for most of my existing fixtures. If a new product is legislated in it should at least be as good as the one they are kicking out. I'd switch to LED but have issues again with having to replace every light fixture in the house. I like saving electricity but at what price?

CFLs and a call for civil disobedience
01/06/09 - Christopher Fountain reports on the EPA Guidelines for cleaning up after a broken CFL. Don't break one! Here is a small excerpt.

[edited] Pending the completion of a full review of the Maine study, EPA will determine whether additional changes to the cleanup recommendations are warranted. The agency plans to conduct its own study on CFLs after thorough review of the Maine study.

Disposal of Clean-up Materials
- Immediately place all clean-up materials outdoors in a trash container or protected area for the next normal trash pickup.
Wash your hands after disposing of the jars or plastic bags containing clean-up materials.
- Check with your local or state government about disposal requirements in your specific area.
- Some states do not allow such trash disposal. Instead, they require that broken and unbroken mercury-containing bulbs be taken to a local recycling center.

How to live with CFL's Lots of facts.

Home automation and CFL's Facts and discussion.

Popular Mechanics
Problems with CFL's discussed in the comments.

The compact fluorescent lamp is actually a fairly conventional, small fluorescent tube packaged with its own power converter (ballast).

Wikipedia: Compact Fluorescent Lamp
The life of a CFL is significantly shorter if it is only turned on for a few minutes at a time: In the case of a 5-minute on/off cycle the lifespan of a CFL can be up to 85% shorter, reducing its lifespan to the level of an incandescent lamp. The US Energy Star program says to leave them on at least 15 minutes each time to mitigate this problem.

MN Energy Challenge
For most areas of the United States, a general rule-of-thumb for when to turnoff a fluorescent light is if you leave a room for more than 15 minutes. In areas where electric rates are high and/or during peak demand periods, this period may be as low as 5 minutes. Fluorescent lights are more expensive to buy,and their operating life is more affected by the number of times they are switched on and off, relative to incandescent lights.

Therefore, it is a cost trade-off between saving energy and money by turning a light off "frequently"and having to replace the bulbs "more" frequently. This is because the reduction in usable lamp life due to frequent on/off switching will probably be greater than the benefit of extending the useful life of the bulb from reduced use. By frequent we mean turning the light off and on many times during the day. Lighting manufacturers should be able to supply information on the duty cycle of their products.
[AG: But they don't]

Ann Porter: Most Life Out of a CFL
"Switching CFLs on and off does shorten lamp life, but [the] conclusion that they need a three- to five-hour on-cycle to maintain a reasonably long life does not appear to be correct. Robert Clear, a staff scientist at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, told Environmental Building News that it has been difficult to get data on this question, but a 1998 study of electronically ballasted CFLs found a 20% reduction in lamp life if the on-time was reduced to one hour. With significantly shorter on-times, the lamp life is dramatically reduced: with15-minute on-time cycling, lamp life dropped 70% and with five-minute on-time lamp life dropped 85% (which brings the lamp life close to that of incandescent light bulbs).

"This suggests that you should consider replacing incandescents with CFLs in any application where the lamp is on an average of [at least] about 10 minutes per start," said Clear. He added that "every switch cycle is equivalent to about 6 minutes of lamp life. This means that you should turn a CFL off if you think it won't be turned on again for another five minutes or so." This approach should also maximize electricity and cost savings."

[AG: These facts don't seem to be consistent with others. It seems that the various factors affecting CFL operation are remixed in a different way, with different conclusions.]

Daily Mail News
Why 'green' light bulbs aren't the answer to global warming, by Christopher Booker

Rod Elliott
Should There be a Ban on Incandescent Lamps? A very detailed examination of CFL and lighting issues.

Tim Stevens
Are Energy-Saving Bulbs Causing Migraine Headaches?
[AG: It seems so]

- -
Why Did my CFL Burn Out So Fast?
(09/03/10) - About.com by Bob Formisano

[edited]  Get used to frequent recycling. One of the biggest myths in all the CFL hype is the rated life of the bulb. Article after article repeats the same misleading "fact" that you will get 6,000 or more hours of life from the CFL. Well, both consumer complaints and lab research are showing how untrue this is.

The rated life for a CFL is measured in either 4 hour on/off cycles or continuously on. Unfortunately, they are sensitive to the number of cycles (and many other factors), so most uses will not see near their claimed 6,000 hours or 10,000 hours of use.

That severely reduces the savings, if any, from using CFL's in most applications and locations. Further, if you hate the light quality or the buzz, then saving some money is a trade-off, not a no brainer.

The requirement to use CFL's is a case of regulatory capture. Big business is writing law to capture profits, in the name of green energy. The entire green energy movement is a profit-seeking venture. Al Gore, high priest of green, became a billionaire by investing in companies that were made rich by favorable regulations after the fact.


Johnny 5 said...

As someone who sells light bulbs for a living, I am constantly bombarded with questions about how much energy is actually being saved by using compact fluorescents and whether they live up to all of the hype that they receive. It seems to me that a lot of the negative things said about incandescent bulbs and their energy usage is borne out of a poor understanding of basic physics. The law of conservation of energy states that energy cannot be created or destroyed, just changed from one form to another. So many people speak of incandescent bulbs “wasting” energy as though they are defying the laws of physics and destroying energy. I live in a fairly cool climate and during the winter I use an electric heater to heat the particular room that I am in. If I use an incandescent bulb and 90% of its energy usage is for the production of heat, then it is simply generating heat that I would have to generate anyway with my 1000W heater. It’s June here and we are still dealing with cold and rainy weather, so there is a significant portion of the year where the heat energy produced by incandescent bulbs indoors is useful and not “wasted.” For me, it is an obvious choice given the mercury content and poor light quality that comes from compact fluorescents.

Unknown said...

Most CFLs today on the market contain less than 5mgs of mercury and there are CFL options out there that contain as little as 1.5mgs of mercury- which can hardly be called a “significant amounts of mercury” considering that many item in your home contain 100s of times more of mercury including your computer. Mercury levels in CFLs can never be “nonexistent” since mercury is a necessary component of a CFL and there is no other known element that is capable of replacing it. But CFLs actually prevent more mercury from entering the environment. According to the Union of Concerned Scientist, “a coal-fired power plant will emit about four times more mercury to keep an incandescent bulb glowing, compared with a CFL of the same light output”.

As to CFLs entering landfills, this could be avoided by recycling. The Home Depot announced its CFL recycling program yesterday (6/25). Since 80% of homes are with 10 miles of a local The Home Depot store recycling CFLs should no longer be an issue.

Lighthouse said...

That's a great story
- imaginative, well told!

I am so surprised there is so little opposition to the ludicrous ban in the USA
- we in the Soviet European Union now have it,
thanks to the centralized Brussels "ecodesign comitttee" directives
- but freedom loving USA?
Come on, what is happening?

The importance here is that a ban is not just wrong because CFLs aren't great - after all LEDs are supposedly going to be better -
the ban is wrong also in the freedom of choice aspect,
and moreover - and ironically - wrong also in terms of the big energy saving and emission justifications put to it.
(A simple fact: Light bulbs don't give out any gases - power stations do).

I have written extensively as to the disadvantages of all energy efficiency regulation, using light bulbs as an illustration.

Interested can see the magazine article I wrote a few days ago:

Or my website:

Not Dealing with Energy and Emission Problems:

Example: The Light Bulb Ban


Summary: Why a light bulb ban is wrong - from every perspective
Official EU, USA, Canada and Australia links to energy efficiency bans

The Politics behind the Light Bulb Ban

Light Bulb Basics
Safe -- Old ain't Bad -- Popular -- Unpopular -- Cheap -- Useful -- Proven Heat Benefit -- Ban on 100W+ Bulbs -- All Lights are Different -- Using Lights at Home

Lighting Energy, Emissions and Cost
-- Emissions not justify a ban
-- Bans in low emission states
-- Money savings not justify a ban

Energy/Emission/Cost savings rundown
Price factors -- Usage factors
Incandescent usage: New efficient types
CFL usage: Energy Use -- Brightness -- Turning on-off -- Lifespan
Lifecycle -- Switchover cost -- Small eventual savings

CFL Safety
Home Safety -- Radiation -- Health
Mercury [breakage -- recycling -- dumping -- mining -- manufacturing -- transport -- power stations]

End Notes
What is the hurry to ban now?
-- The EU proposal: What is banned?
Say "Bonjour" to Madame Fleury de Paris

Lighthouse said...

Saw your posting on reason.tv just now

Humorous story here about advertising:

I would add 2 comments,

that one problem is of course that, at least in Europe, and from what I understand in North America too, CFL and LED manufacturers DON'T advertise much - relying on boring public campaigns and bans to shift product.

Politicians then keep blaming "market factors"
for having to ban:
"People don't buy CFLs cause they are expensive, so we must ban the cheap bulbs"
"People have had bad experiences with past CFLs, modern ones are better, people won't buy them, so we must ban the ordinary bulbs"

But you don't keep buying a cheap product that does not meet with expectations, nor avoid expensive products just on cost (think of imaginative advertising for batteries, "expensive but cheap in the long run" with Energizer/Duracell bunnies, similarly washing up liquid etc
- of course people might not want to switch ALL their lights anyway, and if products aren't good enough, they simply won't sell.

The simple truth:

Americans (like Europeans) choose to buy ordinary light bulbs around 8 to 9 times out of 10 (light industry data 2008).
Banning what people want gives the supposed savings - no point in banning an impopular product = no "savings"!

If new LED lights - or more efficient CFLs, or more efficient incandescents themselves - are good,
people will buy them - no need to ban ordinary light bulbs (little point).
If they are not good, people will not buy them - no need to ban ordinary light bulbs (no point).

The arrival of the transistor didn’t mean that more energy using radio tubes were banned… they were bought less anyway.

Lighthouse said...

The second comment I would add,

is that, regarding supposed savings of using CFLs,
there are several more factors reducing them:

Power factor alone halves supposed savings.
CFLs have a typical power factor of 0.5,
meaning twice as much energy is needed from the power station than what shows up on your meter,
but of course you end up having to pay for it on your bill anyway
(power factor has to do with phase differences, and is a well known phenomenon as shown by official government links etc: http://www.ceolas.net/#li15x )
A more thorough rundown on why savings don't hold is at http://www.ceolas.net/#li13x

In this regard,
also note that if electricity use does fall, the power companies have to put up prices to cover their overheads, maintenance costs, wage bills etc (using less fuel doesn't compensate much in overall costs).
As with other consumption, those who use less tend to pay more per unit used (and heavy users get discounts).

Obsinguod said...

I have to say the power factor thing's going to make me picky about which bulbs I get, but the rest of this is readable yet purple journalism favoring global warming (hot, stormy, wet and flat; from generation emissions and transmission and usage losses,) with hideous old fixtures, and hot broken glass, and exposed electrocution risk, over the CFL niggles presented.

Rail in favor of HID lamps (which, in good operating order, have awesome efficiency and color tunability,) for a bit, then we can talk.

>heavy users get discounts.
Yes, yes we do. Were you worried about falling out of the heavies and our contracts, Panta Rei? (Awesome name, BTW.)

PR> As shown by official government links etc:
You mean IANA, or that they're Federally Secured Lies (for whichever government you happen to mean?)

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