The new energy bill signed this week makes it official. When 2012 hits, stores can no longer sell the cheap but inefficient incandescent light bulbs that are fixtures in most homes.
Congress has not specifically outlawed incandescent bulbs, only inefficient ones.
In February, G.E. said that it was developing a high-efficiency incandescent that will radiate more than twice the light of conventional incandescents. It expects to make that one commercially available by 2010, and one that is twice as efficient a few years later.
And so far, consumers have been slow to give new products a chance. Compact fluorescents, for example, are already ubiquitous in stores. Many retailer have promoted the economics of the bulbs — though compact fluorescents generally cost six times what incandescents do, they last six times as long and use far less energy.
Currently, cfl's account for 15 percent of bulbs in use in homes.
Sylvania recently introduced a fluorescent that CEO Charlie Jerabek said mimicked the light of incandescents. He concedes that incandescents are about 10 percent warmer, but he insists that “the average consumer would have trouble detecting the difference.”
Compact fluorescent lights have problems beyond light quality. They contain mercury, and few recycling centers will accept them. So at the end of life, they still pose an environmental hazard.
“We’re working to reduce mercury, but the amount will never go to zero,” Mr. Petras said.
That is why Jerabek, for one, calls compact fluorescent lights “a temporary fix.”
Manufacturers are putting a lot of stock in light-emitting diodes — or L.E.D.’s. They operate with chips made of nontoxic materials and last for about 50,000 hours, compared with 1,000 hours for an incandescent and 6,000 for a compact fluorescent. A tiny L.E.D. can shed as much light as a cumbersome bulb, which makes them easier to integrate into a home’s décor. And, they are extremely energy efficient.
But today, they are too expensive to use for all lighting applications. And, while manufacturers are able to make pretty good colored L.E.D.’s — the kind that are already available for Christmas tree lights — they have yet to perfect a white L.E.D. that would be useful for lighting homes. But they're working on it.