CFL, is it worth it?

I stumbled upon this, a rather lengthy, post that brings up some valid points on the CFL technology as a whole and the trade offs you’ll have to consider when upgrading your incandescent fixtures, especially in regards to home/lighting automation.

In wanting to lower my carbon footprint, I tried switching to CFLs myself a while back, but found too many drawbacks in present generation of this technology and opted for replacing all (or most) switches in the house with dimmers and setting their default level to about 80%. The effect on my electricity bill was immediate, the solution was less pricey considering that no fixtures had to be replaced and keeping integrity of my home automation system intact.

Here’s a snip of that post with a link to follow at the bottom…

Posted by Robert Green on November 20, 2009, 4:02 am

> Except for the “intricately curved delicate glass tubes”, 120V LEDs have
> essentially the same production and noise issues as CFLs.

That’s a pretty big exception. As a guy who custom builds electronics by hand, I am sure that you realize that even one delicate step in a process, say soldering an SMD component to a circuit board by hand, can cause your reject rate to soar. Take a look at some of the spiral shapes of bulbs and I think you’ll realize that it takes some significant heat and tooling to create narrow but even diameter glass tubes that then must be twisted into spiral shape, uniformly coated internally with phosphor, primed with mercury, and then sealed and capped with electrodes. Forgive me for taking a technical note and turning it into polemic, but this is an important issue.

Even if LED and CFL production costs were equal, manufacturing CFL’s means increasing the mining for mercury and causing much more of the neurotoxin to enter the world at large. It may very well turn out that CFLs looked good on paper but turned out not to be so good when all costs are computed, just like biofuels.

While one dot of mercury might not seem so bad, almost 300 million CFL’s were sold in the United States last year (or so says the New York Times in a Feb. 17, 2008, editorial). But what worries me is the even more staggering figure that CFL’s are currently used in only 10% to 20% of the fixtures in residential home. That could extrapolate into perhaps 3 *billion* CFL’s getting deployed after the mandate’s phased in. Even when you talk about micrograms per bulbs, that’s a lot of mercury going into landfills, incinerators and eventually, the bloodstream of newborn babies.

> That Lumform 4W MR16 LED gets too hot to touch, and is a very strong
> radiator of 121KHz powerline noise.

Both technologies have shortcomings, agreed, but fluorescent technology has been around for a much longer time than LEDs and if such CFL problems had solutions, one would expect them to be uncovered by now. Some say fluorescents began in 1856 when Heinrich Geissler created a *mercury* <g> vacuum pump that was much more efficient than any other of the time. When current was applied through the “Geissler tube”, it glowed. Commercial fluorescents didn’t really hit the market in force until after their debut by GE at the 1939 World’s Fair.

Either way, that’s a long head start for fluorescents to just now be almost neck and neck with LEDs, a nascent technology that’s only really been a home lighting contender for 10 years at most. Because it’s difficult to sustain an arc in a fluorescent tube at low power levels, CFLs will probably never equal tungsten or LED lights when it comes to smooth, linear dimming.

My contention is that these subtle, but persistent CFL flaws (size, incompatibility with existing timers, photocell-controlled lamps, dimmers, X-10 and the like) mean that LEDs *have* to rule to roost, eventually.
Competition is a fascinating thing, summed up by the old joke punchline: “I don’t have to outrun the bear, I just have to outrun you!” Even very slight-seeming advantages can add up to a killer blow over the long haul.
The CFL is running hard, but true LED “cold light” will win the race, even over a characteristic as lowly as higher resistance to breakage. All the studies I’ve seen say LEDs have much greater “room to grow” in both
efficiency and cheaper production costs than CFLs and should surpass them very soon in both categories.

> I read a lot about LEDs before trying those initial 12V MR16 landscape
> lights. The DOE CALiPER reports on Solid-State Lighting indicate that
> reliability and brightness fall-off are major problems for LED lighting.

I agree completely. The current landscape of LED offerings is hauntingly reminiscent of the introduction of CFLs. Cheap, crappy products and hyper-expensive products dominated the landscape; the early adopters who tried them rejected them and developed long-lasting negative attitudes towards them. This has acted as quite a drag on their acceptance.

Continue reading this post at the forum.

About Ruslan Ulanov 103 Articles
Ruslan Ulanov is a software engineer by day and Smart Home hacker by night. He got fascinated by potential of home automation over a decade ago, when it was available to select few. Over the years experimented with smart products using different technologies from X10 to Insteon to ZigBee. Actively supports new smart home developments on Kickstarter and Indiegogo.

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