The End of Incandescence

New government energy efficiency standards have arrived, requiring that light bulbs use 25% less electricity. The means Edison’s classic incandescent is giving way to more environmentally friendly bulbs, like compact fluorescents (CFLs), and LEDs, which lower energy costs up to 75%. To honor the 100-watt incandescent, we’ve compiled a list of historical facts, good green know-how, and money-saving opportunities all about the light bulb.

  • Year Humphry Davy demonstrated the arc lamp, a light bulb precursor: 1806
  • Year Thomas Alva Edison is credited with inventing the first electric light bulb: 1879
  • Number of materials Edison tested to find the right filament to electrically produce light in his bulb: 1,600
  • Filaments he tried: coconut fiber, fishing line, hair from a friend’s beard
  • Filament he successfully used: Carbonized bamboo
  • Life of Edison’s first carbon filament bulb: 14.5 hours
  • Percent of total energy bill regularly consumed by incandescent bulbs: 10 to 20
  • Year the U.S. government decided to increase light bulb efficiency standards: 2007
  • Year that all bulbs — incandescent, CFL, and LED — on the market will be required to use 25% less energy: 2014
  • Life of the average incandescent bulb today: 1,000 hours
  • Number of watts a CFL bulb needs to produce the same light as a 60w incandescent: 13
  • Year GE began selling the first non-compact fluorescent bulbs: 1938
  • Life of the average fluorescent bulb, including CFLs: 10,000 hours
  • Percentage of energy decreased by using a CFL bulb because it doesn’t use heat to create light: 75
  • Amount energy-efficient Energy Star fixtures can save in annual energy costs: $70
  • Substance that creates light-producing radiation in fluorescents: Mercury vapor
  • Amount of mercury that can cause mercury poisoning: 0.05mg
  • Approximate amount of toxic mercury found in CFL bulb: 5mg
  • Approximate amount of mercury in a watch battery: 25mg
  • Amount of mercury waste produced by fluorescent bulbs in landfills: nearly 30,000 pounds
  • Number of sealed plastic bags the EPA recommends wrapping a CFL in before disposal: 2
  • Minimum number of clean-up steps for a broken CFL: 9
  • Year unheralded Russian scientist Oleg Vladimirovich Losev invented the LED: 1927
  • Year often cited as the invention of the Light Emitting Diode (LED): 1962
  • Operating life expected from LEDs: 50,000, and soon to 100,000, hours

LEDs are likely to be the future of energy-efficient lighting. But we’re not there yet. Thechief factor restricting more widespread LED adoption: high price.

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