Where Did All the Incandescents Go?


By Evan Ogrodnik

The new year will undoubtedly bring with it many changes for manufacturers and consumers.  One such change that may impact all of us is the phase-out of 40-watt and 60-watt incandescent light bulbs.  These are the last of a phase-out that began two years ago with 100-watt bulbs, and last year with 75-watt bulbs.  It is estimated that by mid-2014, incandescent bulbs will no longer be available, period.  Oh, what Mr. Edison must be thinking from beyond…

Elimination of the incandescent bulb from United States production (and import) is representative of the continued emphasis on energy efficiency.  The old bulbs are said to provide more heat than light (approximately 90% of the energy produced is in the form of heat), and they will be replaced primarily by light-emitting diode (LED) bulbs and compact fluorescent lamps (CFLs), both of which are expected to reduce energy consumption and carry much longer lifespans.   These products, however, carry a hefty up-front price tag relative to what you may have paid for incandescent bulbs, so the cost savings may be realized over a period of years.

The decrease in energy consumption is not only expected to save you a few bucks (in the long term); it should also protect our environment in the form of decreased burning of coal and the release of carbon emissions into the atmosphere (although these days, power plants are fueling operations with natural gas as well, which is more environmentally friendly). 

All of this will surely have an impact on U.S. manufacturers and their suppliers in some capacity.  The manufacturing of incandescent bulbs in the United States is no longer permitted, which could lead to a loss of jobs at facilities that have long produced these items.  That said, lighting equipment manufacturers (light bulbs, fixtures, parts and components) continue to develop new technologies through research and innovation in an effort to produce goods that reduce energy consumption and emissions, provide light production similar to what we are accustomed to, and are affordable to the consumer.  The transition is not without its challenges considering the going rate for a single 60-watt LED bulb is approximately $10 and up.   

The days of the incandescent bulb are soon to go the way of the dinosaur.  Perhaps, in the spirit of true capitalism, some individuals will make a run on what’s left of the incandescent bulb supply and supplement their income selling America’s bulb on the black market for years to come.

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