By Ben Myshkin
The end is coming, at least for the incandescent light bulb. With the signing of the Clean Energy Act of 2007, the incandescent light bulb will effectively be banned from sale in the United States by 2014. In some ways this is of little wonder; the incandescent bulb has hardly changed since its invention by Thomas Edison in 1879. Inherently inefficient, incandescent bulbs work by heating up a filament until it glows white hot. This is the cause for its massive inefficiency (90-95% of the electricity used is wasted as heat) and is precisely why Congress has banned it.
So, the big question is, what are Americans going to do without the incandescent bulb? Clearly, our legislators have already decided that Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs), which only use about 10% of the electricity, will be the main replacement. We've all heard about these energy savings, but even so, CFLs are like the lighting equivalent of John Kerry in 2004; maybe a better logical choice, but not someone you want to have over for dinner. Especially not in every room of your house, with a term limit of 10,000 hours of use.
Worse than that, all CFLs have a minimum of 5mg of mercury, an extremely toxic element. While reports of hazmat toxics teams being called in for a broken CFL are overblown, that much mercury is still a problem, especially because a viable recycling scheme does not currently exist in the US, and most CFLs end up broken and in landfills. That 5mg of mercury in each CFL is enough to contaminate 625 gallons of water according to the standards set by the EPA, so you can imagine the consequences if our entire nation switched to CFLs.
Luckily, Light Emitting Diodes (LED) light bulbs, are beginning to mature as a technology, and are finally at the point where they are becoming a viable way to light your home. Commercially available LEDs have outstripped incandescent light bulbs in terms of efficiency (as measured by the amount of light produced vs. the amount of energy used) and have none of the mercury of CFLs. Another difference is that LEDs produce focused light, which goes in the direction it is aimed, instead of being diffused like other lighting technologies. While this requires a different approach to lighting (such as using adjustable swivel necked lamps), it ultimately keeps you from using energy on unnecessary lighting (like illuminating the back of your lighting fixture).
However, most LED lights are simply not bright enough to replace old fashioned light bulbs or are simply too expensive (often over $100) to be a viable alternative. Another problem is that it is hard for people to know how bright these bulbs actually are; while a large company can afford to buy a few just to check, the rest of us just can't afford that. That's why we're so happy that http://compareledlights.com/index.php has been started; it's high time someone decided to test out all the hype about LED light bulbs. Offering a lot of basic information about LED lights, reviews of all sorts of LED light bulbs, and picture of the bulbs in use, compare LED lights is a great resource, and we're thrilled that the next step in bringing LED lights to the general public has finally arrived.