From the list of Shit That Pisses Me Off:
The incandescent light bulb isn’t dead
Reports were greatly exaggerated
Perhaps you’ve heard the news: the incandescent light bulb is dead. “When the ball drops on New Year’s Eve, the year ends — and so does the ordinary lightbulb,” wrote Fox News. CNN even penned an obituary. That’s because, according to countless media reports, January 1st marks the “light bulb ban.” Today’s the day when the US government finally phases out the dated technology by banning the manufacture or import of 60-watt and 40-watt incandescent bulbs, which are repeatedly cited as the most popular bulbs in the US. The reports typically suggest that consumers get used to buying pricier, more efficient compact fluorescent or LED bulbs, or else stock up on incandescents while supplies last.
Unfortunately, little of that is true. There is no such thing as an incandescent light bulb ban in the United States. In fact, on the very same day that the 60-watt incandescent light bulb disappears, you’ll be able to buy a 43-watt incandescent light bulb to take its place. Or a 72-watt incandescent bulb. Or a 150-watt incandescent bulb. Or a three-way incandescent light bulb. Or one with a more durable filament for “rough service” applications. There are literally dozens of loopholes. “It’s not like tomorrow people won’t be able to buy an incandescent light bulb,” says GE’s John Strainic.
So what is actually happening on January 1st? The cost of an ordinary light bulb will drastically rise — and hopefully your electricity bill will fall. The so-called bulb ban is simply a government-mandated energy efficiency standard at work. Seven years ago, President Bush signed the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 (PDF) into law, and its final light bulb provisions take effect today. They simply require that the most popular light bulbs are roughly 25 percent more efficient — that you only need 43 watts to generate the same amount of light as a 60-watt incandescent.
And it just so happens that such 43-watt incandescent bulbs already exist — they’re known as halogen. Halogen incandescent bulbs complement the tungsten filament of a traditional incandescent bulb with halogen gas which helps them burn more efficiently. Now, manufacturers claim halogen incandescents look and work nearly identically to the original. GE says they can have the same shape, size, brightness, color temperature, color rendering index (CRI), and dim the same too. Unfortunately, they cost a lot more. While you could buy incandescent bulbs for as little as 25 cents each last year, you can expect to pay upwards of $1.50 for each halogen incandescent. “Halogen technology is a little more expensive to use and manufacture,” admits Strainic, who says he doesn’t expect those prices to change drastically even if halogen bulbs really take off.
But theoretically, these new bulbs pay for themselves. Where a traditional 60W bulb costs roughly $8 per year for three hours of light each day, a 43W bulb can put out the same amount of light for only $6 worth of electricity, according to manufacturer estimates. That would more than cover the cost of the bulb.
I’m not saying that halogen bulbs are a bad idea, but if they’re so great why do we need a law to make people buy them? Let the marketplace decide – that’s democracy in action. If I want to drive a giant Humvee that gets 15 gallons to the mile, what’s it to you?
There has been a lot of government money that went into developing these new “green” technologies. I’m sure it was just a coincidence that most of it when to politically-connected companies like Solyndra.
Those old fashioned tungsten lightbulbs have been around since 1906 – long enough for the patents to run out. That means companies in China and Mexico can manufacture them without having to pay royalties. The newer halogen, CFL and LED designs are covered by lucrative patents. What makes those patents so lucrative are government mandates forcing us to buy the new designs.
Do you see where I’m going with this?
There is an unholy marriage of the Nanny State and Crony Capitalism. Over and over again we see where laws that are “for our own good” turn out to be windfalls for certain industries that also turn out to have been heavily involved in pushing for those new laws.
The worst part of the whole thing is having to deal with smarmy know-it-all Progs who lecture condescendingly to me about how much better off I am.
The 2007 Energy Bill, a stew of regulations and subsidies, set mandatory efficiency standards for most light bulbs. Any bulbs that couldn’t produce a given brightness at the specified energy input would be illegal. That meant the 25-cent bulbs most Americans used in nearly every socket of their home would be outlawed.
People often assume green regulations like this represent the triumph of environmental activists trying to save the plant. That’s rarely the case, and it wasn’t here. Light bulb manufacturers whole-heartedly supported the efficiency standards. General Electric, Sylvania and Philips — the three companies that dominated the bulb industry — all backed the 2007 rule, while opposing proposals to explicitly outlaw incandescent technology (thus leaving the door open for high-efficiency incandescents).
This wasn’t a case of an industry getting on board with an inevitable regulation in order to tweak it. The lighting industry was the main reason the legislation was moving. As the New York Times reported in 2011, “Philips formed a coalition with environmental groups including the Natural Resources Defense Council to push for higher standards.”
Competitive markets with low costs of entry have a characteristic that consumers love and businesses lament: very low profit margins. GE, Philips and Sylvania dominated the U.S. market in incandescents, but they couldn’t convert that dominance into price hikes. Because of light bulb’s low material and manufacturing costs, any big climb in prices would have invited new competitors to undercut the giants — and that new competitor would probably have won a distribution deal with Wal-Mart.
So, simply the threat of competition kept profit margins low on the traditional light bulb — that’s the magic of capitalism. GE and Sylvania searched for higher profits by improving the bulb — think of the GE Soft White bulb. These companies, with their giant research budgets, made advances with halogen, LED and fluorescent technologies, and even high-efficiency incandescents. They sold these bulbs at a much higher prices — but they couldn’t get many customers to buy them for those high prices. That’s the hard part about capitalism — consumers, not manufacturers, get to demand what something is worth.
Capitalism ruining their party, the bulb-makers turned to government. Philips teamed up with NRDC. GE leaned on its huge lobbying army — the largest in the nation — and soon they were able to ban the low-profit-margin bulbs.
Follow the money.
BTW – The CEO of General Electric is Jeffery Immelt, a “top economic advisor” to Barack Obama.