Obsolescence of Edison

Let there be Light.   And there is light, just not inefficient light anymore.  In the United States, incandescent bulbs ranging from 100 Watts edbulbto 40 W are being phased out in the name of energy efficiency.  100 W incandescent bulbs were phased out late last year and the manufacture of 75-Watt lamps halted yesterday.  This has been a move heralded by environmentalists, energy officials, and CFL/LED light manufacturers and a move despised by incandescent producers, consumers wary of alternative lighting (quality, application, safety, Mercury), and ruttists (see a previous entry).  Sure, Compact Fluorescent Lamps and Light Emitting Diode bulbs produce comparable light, require less energy, and run longer than incandescent lights.  But why give them up?

Why should we stop incandescently illuminating our homes and businesses?

While we’re at it, we might as well ask why Ford Model T’s aren’t produced anymore or why doctors  no longer ‘bleed‘ patients to cure illness.

In an age where information and technology evolve at a blinding pace, the new and the better replace the old and the obsolete.  Advances in automotive fuel efficiency are generally commended instead of shunned as too fancy.  No one is complaining about owning a laptop that doesn’t take up an entire room.  And who looks at their smart phone and thinks, “This should be the size of a brick!?”  Lighting technology has surely improved enough that we shouldn’t want or need a century-old relic anymore.  Incandescent lighting produces 90% heat and 10% light….extremely inefficient unless you try to market light bulbs as winter heat lamps.

Don’t get me wrong.  Without incandescent lighting, we might’ve had a difficult time in the lab advancing fluorescent and LED technology.  Incandescent lighting has a long and diverse history; incandescent light has had vast impacts on life and society.  But it’s time to bow out and let CFL and LED technology illuminate society.   As for me, I’m investing in LED lighting.  Life spans of 25,000-60,000 hours, 5-10 Watts comparable to 30-75 Watt incandescent, NO mercury like CFLs…a worthwhile investment for me!

Think about it this way.

Comparison by ProductDose.com

Comparison by ProductDose.com

I think this is a slightly older study, as LED and CFL technologies have improved while cost has declined.  But you get the picture.  There certainly is a bright future in LED lighting. LEDs even work for specific situations now, like Candelabra fixtures or enclosed fixtures. (Just be aware of myths about LED lightingDSC_1195a.)

I suppose some folks aren’t so much opposed to alternative lighting as they are outraged that the government has shattered their lighting trends.  To that I don’t have a correct answer.  But I will say we are simply joining the growing list of nations that are phasing out inefficient lighting in efforts to reduce energy use, stifle pollution production, and minimize waste (think bulb lifespan).  Thank you light bulb and thank you Mr. Edison for brightening up our days.  But it is time.  Switch off!

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Rethinking Retail

…And they’re off!  With Halloween days behind us, the retail world has shifted its profit-seeking gaze towards Christmas.  Well, not Christmas itself.  Not the time of year when we’re to be thankful for what we have and generous to those who have not.  Rather, Christmas to the retail world is that special time of year when we open our wallets wider to amass more material goods and give them to those who may or may not need them.  Far too often, the feeling of obligation overwhelms the reservations about gift-list guessing and we end up purchasing stuff that NO ONE likely EVER needs.

OK, so I have a problem with the materialistic side of the holidays. But retail has a lot of opportunity to redeem itself if it strives for the triple bottom line. Retail could become more sustainable by offering American-made products, products made from recycled materials, products made with minimal packaging, products made to last, and parts for durable products (instead of forcing you to purchase a completely new product). For example, I ran into a parts issue with Cuisinart this year.  I acquired an older model of blender; the motor worked just fine, but the blade was broken.  I looked all over the net to find that 1) they don’t make parts for that model, 2) parts from other models are not interchangeable, and 3) I had an unusable blender.   Irritated, I sent the company a scolding email about purporting wastefulness.  I also noted that they could probably make more profit by selling and shipping pieces rather than whole units.  This is an example of durable goods gone wrong.  Anywho…

Retail could also improve upon the awful, inefficient, and unsustainable big box store design.  High ceilings mean more space to heat and cool.  Install suspended ceilings!    Incorporate skylighting to reduce the need for artificial lighting and the cost of electricity, bulbs, and ballasts.  Use energy efficient ballasts and fluorescent or LED Lighting.  Use motion sensors to minimize lighting costs.

Flat roofs span acres, acres that could be vegetated or generating electricity.  Fill the flat roofs with solar arrays or install a green roof.  Solar panels can produce electricity to offset demand.  Green roofs can insulate a building, reduce stormwater runoff, and reduce the Urban Heat Island Effect.  You can have the best of both worlds by combining green roofs AND photovoltaic arrays.  The cooling effect of vegetation can provide more optimal operating temperatures for the solar panels.  That means that solar panels can operate more efficiently when it counts.  Imagine, it’s a hot, sunny summer day and the risks for brown outs are severely high. Your roof can save the day by both reducing the need for air conditioning (see the insulating properties of green roofs) and reducing the load on centrally-produced power (coal power plants) that may have trouble keeping up.

Next, parking.  Parking lots are vast expanses of impermeable area that contribute to urban flooding and the heat island effect.  They’re not usually even filled to capacity

Using a Strip Mall Parking Lot for a Community Block Party

(except for days like Black Friday).  But there are several options here.  First, share the parking lot with other area institutions and businesses.  For example, both 9-5 auto repair shops and restaurants need parking space.  But peak parking for the restaurant will be long after the mechanics have left.  Just overlap the parking lots to utilize the space more effectively.  Another option is to use permeable cool pavements to reduce stormwater runoff and reduce temperatures.  Yet another option is to capture and store surface water in large cisterns.  The cisterns can be used to water the landscaping, both reducing stormwater runoff and improving temperature moderation by the plants.  (See this project using living retaining walls in Washington DC.)

Of course many of these tips can apply to other parts of urban society.  Retail is just one part of the Urban Jungle, which desperately needs a return of nature.  Just gotta get out of that rut!

This is by no means and exhaustive list of possible improvements for retail.  Do you have any recommendations?  I’d be happy to hear them!

Escaping the Rut

We don’t like change.  We don’t like moving to new and strange places.  We don’t like getting on a plane for the first time.  We don’t like changing jobs.  We don’t like the end of our favorite season.

Even though we often fear change, we usually accept that  change is necessary.  We need to solve a problem.  We need to regroup.  We need to engage reform in society.  We need to make improvements.

Wikipedia Commons Image

Although many are aware of necessary changes, we still fear what we don’t know; we still fear the unfamiliar.  Unfortunately, sometimes we neglect action even when overwhelming evidence and premonition point imperatively to change..  In my book, that’s called ‘ruttism’– being stuck in a rut, fighting against any iota of change.  A ruttist may or may not be informed about a topic of reform.  They may know the advantages and disadvantages of a change.  Ruttists may even understand deep down that change is imminent.  But a ruttist denies any efforts at changing the status quo.

We’re stuck in a rut on many things.  We play down climate change, we consume ravenously and inefficiently, we pollute the land, the water, the air, and ourselves.  We seek secular materialism while holding that our Christian dominance over Creation merits our less-than-stewardly actions.  We seek the same material goods at the same prices ‘they’ve always been,’ while neglecting that price doesn’t always reflect the social effects of underpaid labor, the health risks of under-regulated pollution standards, or the environmental impact of shipping across vast oceans.

We need changes and improvements to reduce our environmental impact, to promote fairness and social equity, to increase efficiency, and to save and make money so that we can still make a living.  I believe that efficiency improvements are needed across the board.  We can argue over the next big renewable energy technology.  But in the meantime, we can reduce the amount of energy required to live the way we want.  We can debate the impacts of dams, reservoirs, and excessive groundwater extraction.  In the meantime, we can use low-flow plumbing, drip irrigation, rain barrels, cisterns, and greywater.  We can relentlessly debate climate change and global warming.  Meanwhile, we can be ready for the weather with improvements to infrastructure, relevant building codes, green stormwater management tools, living architecture for urban heat islands, and low impact development (LID).  We can worry about how to pay for all of these improvements.  Meanwhile, we can reap the long-term environmental, social, and economic benefits from the important, though costly, initial changes.

The point of the sustainability portion of this blog is to highlight efficiency improvements, calls to action, visions of a sustainable future, etc..   Think about giving them a read.  Think about some other improvements that could be made NOW.  What other improvements do you think will pay dividends??  How do you think we can escape the rut?

A Call for Candelabra LED Lighting

I’ve recently moved into a place with several ceiling fans.  I think ceiling fans are fantastic for air circulation and important for reducing the need for constant air conditioning.

But now I have a problem with the lighting situation.  In many rooms, these fans also serve as the primary light source.  Unfortunately, all of my fixtures can only use candelabra style bulbs.  What about my cool LEDs?

WHY?  Why can’t I put in my medium-base LED lights into these fixtures in the name of energy conservation?  It turns out Uncle Sam has changed lighting regulations for ceiling fans in an effort to conserve energy (See the Reg Info).  Not all medium-base fixtures are technically banned, but manufacturers are exploiting a loophole by switching to an almost completely candelabra-based ceiling fan market  (See the point of contention).

Short-Lived Compact Fluorescent Candelabra

I understand these regulations were changed for the greater good, but what good are they if they stifle innovation in energy efficient lighting  (i.e., LED technology)?  I’ve posted about LED lighting before (Bright Future in LED Lighting), and the technology is here and improving dramatically.  There are several options out there for several fixtures, including candelabras.  However, most R&D has been devoted to medium-based bulbs (Edison Bulbs, E26 / E27).  These efficient bulbs could easily work with the Wattage restrictions if the medium-base fixtures were reintroduced  en masse.

Please let me know if you’ve found a candelabra that puts out adequate light (at least ‘equivalent’ to a 45 W incandescent).  I have yet to find suitable LEDs or even CFL candelabras that work.  And the few CFL candelabras bright enough for my applications generally have much shorter life spans than would be expected.

Anyway, enough of the fist shakery.  I simply want to enlighten anyone in the LED lighting industry that there is a niche that desperately needs to be filled!

Enjoyable Earthship

Here are a couple more pictures from our trip to Taos, NM to the Earthship community.  Our Earthship was The Euro (for sale apparently), which I posted about earlier.

The view of scrubland/desert and mountains on the horizon made our stay very enjoyable.  The nearby Taos Ski Valley provides recreational fun any time of year.

It was interesting to experiment with the circulation system to manage comfort levels.

These are the ropes that operate the vent boxes in the roof, part of an ingenious but relatively simple off-the-grid circulation system.  The plants in the interior window’s reflection take in water from sinks and showers and provide filtration for greywater (to be used in the toilets).  The plants can also filter and purify the air and even produce produce!  Oh, the potential!

No wonder the late Dennis Weaver built one in Colorado!

Bright Future in LED Lighting

There has been press lately about the new Philips LED bulb, retailing at (yikes!) $60 minus available rebates.  The slant of many posts state that it’s efficient but expensive, so hug onto your old Edison technology and stay tethered to your coal-powered  electric utility.  True, people are likely to be reluctant to pay $60 for a light bulb, but there are several reasons to consider LED lighting.  There are also several options in LED lighting that cost much less than the hyped Philips bulb.

If I turned every light on in my apartment, I’d be using approximately 276.5 Watts.  Out of 25 screw-in bulbs, 11 are CFLs and 14 are LEDs.  If I exchanged every bulb with a 40 Watt incandescent bulb, I would require 1000 Watts for all 25 bulbs!

Over the past few years, I’ve ‘invested’ in LED technology by buying strange new bulbs for my home.  At first, I was just curious if they could actually trump CFLs in energy efficiency.  The first few bulbs I purchased (a few 1 watt and 3 watt bulbs) did NOT impress me.  Sure, they produced light very efficiently, but their brightness was subpar (less than 100 lumens).  They might as well have been security or night lighting.

150 LEDs in there

Nonetheless, I didn’t dismiss LEDs.  I began to purchase higher-wattage LEDs.  These bulbs, ranging from 7-13 Watts, were much pricier ($50-$100), but much brighter.  I quickly discovered that LED bulbs use varying technologies: multi-LED panels and super-bright LED systems.  The multi-LED panel is simply several basic white LEDs (like the ones in your flashlight).

Old vs New. Improvements in EarthLED ZetaLux bulb size, brightness, and price.

The Super-bright LED systems require far fewer LEDs that emit much more light.  Whereas 36 LEDs could barely produce 180 lumens at 3 watts, a bulb with 8 superbright LEDs can produce over 500 lumens at 7 watts (see CCrane Chart).  A 13 watt bulb equipped with modern “light engines” can emit about 1000 lumens, replacing a 100 watt incandescent.  As the companies I’ve ‘invested’ in have progressed, lighting technology and durability have improved and prices have dropped dramatically.  For example, a bulb costing >$100 a few years ago is now $25.

There are additional benefits to these lighting advances.  LED bulbs are intended to last anywhere from 20,000 to 50,000 hours.  Standard incandescent bulbs, producing more heat than light, survive for maybe 1,000 hours.  Even CFLs die out after 5,000-10,000 hours of use.  Next, LEDs generally contain no hazardous heavy metals like CFLs.  They are usually made with aluminum bases (serving as heat sinks) and durable plastic coatings (versus breakable glass globes).  Finally, for those still uncertain of the longevity of LEDs, many manufacturers offer 3-5 year warranties for their product.  That’s an extensive warranty for a LIGHT BULB.

C.Crane GeoBulb uses 8 super-bright LEDs.

Of course, there are a few downsides to LED lighting.  As time goes on, the lights’ output slowly degrade, as opposed to abruptly burning out in incandescents and CFLs.  Insufficient light output in general has been an ongoing issue with LEDs, though R&D has gone into correcting this.  Another issue many have is that LEDs tend to not be omnidirectional; lights focus in only particular directions.  This is a technological issue (the new Philips bulb is trying to address it), but if you strategize, you can find the right bulbs for most applications.  Finally, while the LEDs and the hardware are extremely durable, sometimes circuitry can prematurely fail.  I’ve had this happen on a few bulbs where an array or two of LEDs would fail.  This has not yet occurred with my superbright LED light bulbs.  I have no solution except to look for products with warranties and trust that the technology improves. LEDs use semiconductor technology similar to that of photovoltaic solar panels.  Advances in one technology may translate to improvements and cost reductions in both industries.

Anyway, the takeaway point of this extensive talk on light bulbs (who writes about light bulbs for fun?) is that LED technology has a definitive future.  As for me, I’m investing in it NOW and witnessing the progress…all while promoting stewardship of natural resources and reducing my electric utility bill!

From Left to Right: 13w CFL, 5w LED, 7.5w LED, 9w LED, 7w LED

If you have any questions about LED lighting, feel free to ask!

Related Entry:  A Call for Candelabra LED Lighting

Lost in Transmission: Energy

In light of agriculture and urbanization, the need for new and improved infrastructure to transport and transmit water, electricity, natural gas, oil, etc. is never ending  (see Keystone XL Pipeline frenzy).

Oil spills have risen over the past decade.  There is 2.5 million miles of infrastructure to gather, transmit, and distribute oil and natural gas.  According to a 2001 study of oil spills, pipelines are the source of more spills than barges and tankers combined.  While the rate of spillage has reduced, spills in the future are likely due to aging infrastructure.  When the paper was written, 46% of the pipeline infrastructure was already three decades old, and 16% have been in place for half a century.  (Keep in mind this study is over a decade old.)  Do we build new pipelines while precariously ignoring old infrastructure?  Spills throughout the oil industry in the US are ubiquitous.  See a Current Spill Map.

Electricity.  We really like our electricity.  It’s not too hard to think that we blare the television while we vacuum the carpet; the microwave is cooking food in the kitchen while the monstrous fridge (with the door opened dozens of times during the day) works overtime.  Meanwhile, the sunlight-blocking drapes are closed and the lights are on.  Is anybody home??  While we could all learn a lesson on energy conservation in the United States, transmitting electricity to our homes is also a particularly important topic.  Electricity is usually generated miles away from its market, although it cannot be easily stored.  And with expansive grids, transmission losses are often estimated to be between 5-7%.  Generating electricity on a large-scale, far from customers is rather inefficient, even for  solar power.  However, solar power is an alternative that can be produced in close proximity to consumers–on home and commercial roofs, on terraces, on cars, on pavement, in windows, etc.  Despite many common reservations and misconceptions, photovoltaic technology is amazing and quickly evolving.   A home or institution tied to a grid that allows net-metering can resell excess generated energy or take in grid energy when home-power isn’t enough.

Instead of looking ahead to building more pipelines, more infrastructure, more coal power plants, more oil rigs, why don’t we seriously revisit our existing infrastructure?  Surely replacing and improving existing oil and natural gas pipelines will create jobs while appealing to those with environmental concerns.  A steady transition from central, transmission-intensive electricity generation to micro-generation on-site is also important.  Local resources could be used, including wind, solar, and geothermal, in concert with contemporary electricity generation over a smart grid with net-metering.

An underlying theme in all this is energy responsibility.  At this age, we’re aware of our inefficiencies, and we’re aware that in the United States we consume A LOT of energy on a lot of things.  There are so many things we can do in an effort to conserve energy and our resources.  However, that’s for another day on the soap box.