Energy Saving Light Bulbs
Compact Fluorescent energy saving light bulbs sell at lightning pace in across the Northwest, saving energy and reducing waste for consumers

Compact Fluorescent energy saving light bulbs sell at lightning pace in across the Northwest, saving energy and reducing waste for consumers

Here's a story problem: If one Energy Star® -qualified compact fluorescent saves 66 kwh hours of electricity a year, how much energy do 6.5 million CFLs save? Answer: enough to power more than 34,000 Northwest homes. No trick question. This is the actual 2001 sales total for the Energy Star Residential Lighting Program in the Northwest.

"The success of the Energy Star residential lighting program reminds all of us that working together can produce big energy savings which improves the health of our region's electric system and helps protect the environment," said Margaret Gardner, executive director of the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance, a non-profit group of the region's electric utilities, state governments, public interest groups and efficiency industry representatives.

ENERGY CRUNCH INCREASES DESIRE FOR EFFICIENCY The energy crunch in 2001 brought renewed calls for efficiency throughout the region, but the higher price of the compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs) were a barrier for many consumers. A region-wide coupon campaign offering $6 off Energy Star qualified CFL bulbs gave the program the spark it needed. The coupon campaign was a collaborative effort of the Bonneville Power Administration, the Northwest Energy Efficiency Alliance's Energy Star Residential Lighting Program, 90 electric utilities and 1,400 Northwest retailers. By the end of 2001, utility customers have redeemed more than 3.3 million coupons.

"We felt that if people tried the bulbs, they would see that they provide the same light as incandescent bulbs, but use a lot less energy. We expect many of the consumer who bought CFLs using the coupons will return to purchase additional lights without the coupon," Gardner said.

By the end of 2001, utility customers had redeemed more than 3.3 million coupons, accounting for about half of all the energy-saving bulbs sold. The sales of 6.5 million CFLs are particularly impressive when compared against sales figures for 2000 - about 380,000 bulbs.


Retailers are enthusiastic about the campaign that has brought thousands of customers into their stores. "Customers came in with one or two coupons, but typically they purchased more CFLs," said Jim Winn, Global Product Merchant for Light Bulbs, The Home Depot. "We worked with the Energy Star program representatives on staff training to ensure that our employees are knowledgeable about the benefits of using CFLs in the home. This added service gave our customers the information they needed to choose these energy-saving bulbs."


"Northwest consumers are doing the right thing by using CFLs instead of ordinary lightbulbs," says Gardner. "The benefits of using less electricity means that fewer power plants will need to be built in the future. And since the bulbs last up to 10 times as long as regular lightbulbs we are creating much less waste." In addition, consumer save on their monthly electric bills. Changing out one incandescent lighting bulb for a CFL saves about $30 in electricity costs over the life of the bulb.

The amount of energy saved through the Energy Star Residential Lighting Program is more than just a money saving strategy for consumers, she added. "By purchasing this quantity of bulbs over the course of just one year, our consumers are supporting environmental stewardship in the Northwest."

By 2010, the Alliance estimates that this regional program, and others, will save over 460 aMW through energy efficiency programs supported by the collaborative. That's enough to offset the need to build two new power plants. The reduced carbon dioxide emissions from the savings would be the equivalent of taking about 600,000 cars off the road.


Experts encourage proper dispoals of CFLs. Consumers can dispose of CFLs with household trash. But, instead the Alliance and others urge that bulbs be disposed of properly just as you would other hazardous household materials such as paint, motor oil or batteries.

Why? CFLs contain a very small amount of mercury vapor sealed in the glass tubing of the bulb. The mercury vapor is what makes the CFL light. The tube fluoresent lighting commonly found in virtually every commercial office space operates the same way. As a comparison, there is more mercury in one typical home thermometer than in 100 CFLs combined. No mercury is emitted from the bulbs during operation or when they have burned out.

"Mercury occurs naturally in the environment, but what we want to avoid is a large build up of mercury from unnatural sources," said Gardner. "While the amount of mercury in a single bulb is extremely small and safe to use in the home, we want to make sure that in five to seven years when bulbs begin to burn out, we don't have large accumulations of spent CFLs in the landfills."

Bulbs installed today are expected to last until 2006 or beyond. Bulbs that burn out during their one-year warranty period should be returned to the retailer for a replacement.


"There is a strong commitment around the region to establishing recycling options for CFLs," said Gardner. "We are working with the Zero Waste Alliance, environmental groups and electric utilities to study the opportunities for recycling and disposal programs," she said. " We want to make sure that the bulbs are recycled or disposed of properly, which means encouraging communities to put recycling programs in place before today's CFLs begin to burn out.

Some communities already have local options for disposal or recycling of CFLs. To find out if CFLs are accepted for recycling, visit for a listing of recycling facilities. The law currently allows for CFLs to be disposed of in household trash. "If consumers have no recycling option, we urge them to carefully wrap the bulb in a sealed bag to prevent cuts from glass if the bulb should break," adds Gardner.

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Author Notes:

Mark Harris contributes and publishes news editorial to  Find online lightbulbs like Halogen, Projector, Tanning Bed, Fluorescent, Automotive and much more.

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