Wednesday, March 9, 2011

A Bright Idea?

Ah, the lowly incandescent bulb. The invention perfected by Thomas Edison that’s been lighting up our lives for well over a century. Sure beats using candles and gas lamps, what with the soot and danger and all. 

And while incandescents are not specifically dangerous and burn without messy soot, their inherent problem is that they produce more heat than light. Little energy hogs, they are, in fact.

But they come in all shapes and sizes to meet every lighting and style need. Or they will until 2012. Enter Congress. A 2007 federal law is being phased in that requires light bulbs to be more energy efficient. And as incandescents don’t meet the parameters, they’ll effectively be banned by 2012. Compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) or light emitting diodes (LEDs) will take their place. They use far less energy. Despite their initial high cost, their lifetime value far exceeds the poor old incandescent – only fractions of pennies to burn, and they last years and years… and years.

I’ll admit, I was not an initial adopter of the CFL. They cast industrial light, and I couldn’t attach my lampshades to ‘em. They’ve come a long way in both shape and light temperature. I can get the warm light I like and still use my lamps. I’m phasing them in and am all for saving energy. What makes me scratch my head and wonder why is the government interference.

Left alone, the incandescent would have gone the way of film. Production would slow and then stop as demand decreased. Folks would naturally gravitate toward a better… cheaper… product. They always have. They always will. While that scenario might have taken longer to play out than 2012, it’s hard to believe we’ll ever make up the money Congress has spent and will spend to create, initiate and administer the legislation. Now there’s the real waste.

In light of all that (pun intended), consider this Edison quote: “My principal business consists of giving commercial value to the brilliant, but misdirected, ideas of others.... Accordingly, I never pick up an item without thinking of how I might improve it."

Oh that Mr. Edison might still be around to give some commercial value to the misdirected ideas and efforts of Congress, to say nothing of improving it. Saving energy is a brilliant idea. Failing to let the marketplace do its thing is the misdirected waste.

And let’s not forget about the collateral damage in all this: The Easy-Bake Oven, created by Kenner. Since 1963, generations of kids have baked goodies on a 100-watt light bulb. In some instances cookie dough and icing were consumed sans baking. I speak from experience. Mine was teal. But don’t feel the need to run out and horde 100-watt bulbs to let the baking continue. Hasbro Inc. (now the owner of the toy oven) will launch the Easy-Bake Ultimate Oven… “with a heating element that does not use a light bulb….” It just won’t be the same.