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Not Your Grandma’s CFL – The Brain Compact Fluorescent Lamp

From Belarusian design team Solovyov Design comes an awesome bit of compact fluorescent goodness that breaks the mold of the typical corkscrew-shaped glass envelope.  Meet the Insight CFL from Solovyov Design:

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I love seeing photos of the design team after meeting their lighting product for the first time.  It’s almost like seeing into someone’s soul before you see their face.  LOVE IT!  Meet Solovyov Design chief designers Maria and Igor Solovyov.  Maria, Igor — JimOnLight loves your work!

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The Daily Lamp – Hulger’s Pharaoh Pendant Series for Lightyears

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Today’s Daily Lamp is a very elegant design by Hulger for the Danish lighting company Lightyears — from the Lightyears website:

Pharaoh is a unique pendant light created for the beautifully designed and eye-catching Plumen 001 light source. Pharaoh’s aim has been to gently frame and enhance the expression of the Plumen light source, preventing glare, and ensure optimum luminous efficiency.

In addition to a precise, harmonious shape, Pharaoh is impressive in its unusual and spectacular form. When the lamp is switched off, the shade appears to be mirror-like, reflective and robust. And yet, the moment the lamp is switched on, the shade takes on a metallic transparency, thereby making the light source visible. The transformation between illuminated and non-illuminated is truly remarkable with Pharaoh really optimising this unique light source.

In stores from May 2013

The really twisty light source you see in there is called Plumen – the designer CFL. This thing is also pretty cool, check it out:

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This is a really sleek, elegant pendant!  I likie!  This is Hulger’s first commission for Lightyears, and I hope the next ones are as awesome as Pharaoh!

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Beautiful!

hulger03Thanks to DesignBoom for the initial post!

What? Ohio Public Utilities Commission and FirstEnergy’s $10.80 Stupidity

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Have you ever had a volunteer come to your door with a free compact fluorescent lamp?  When my wife and I lived in Oklahoma City,  a community program volunteer brought a free compact fluorescent lamp to our house for us to have and use in order to save energy.  How nice, right?  We thought so.  A public utility, FirstEnergy in Ohio, set up a program (that was approved by the Ohio Public Utilities Commission, by the way) that distributes compact fluorescent lamps to customers in Ohio.

Cool program, right?  Free fluorescent lamps for all.  Except they’re not free – FirstEnergy will be charging their customers $10.80 each for the lamps, automatically, with no opt-out program.  Hold on a minute – for $10 I can go down to Target, Home Depot, or Lowes’ and buy a half-dozen compact fluorescent lamps.  What’s with this $10.80 per lamp crap?

Last year, the Ohio state government passed a bill saying that utilities had to cut their customers’ usage 22% by the year 2025.  Apparently this is how FirstEnergy is going about reducing energy usage – by charging customers way, way too much for something that people can buy on their own for 1/6 the price.

An article from John Funk at the Plain Dealer in Cleveland states:

FirstEnergy bought Chinese-made bulbs from three distributors including TCP Inc. of Aurora, because it couldn’t find any made in the United States. A California company will deliver 3 million of them door-to-door to Illuminating Co., Ohio Edison and Toledo Edison customers. The rest will be mailed.

Passing out the bulbs is not the way to persuade people to use them, Migden-Ostrander said. The company should have given its customers discount coupons and let them shop for the best deal, she said.

The company’s lawyers resisted that, arguing that FirstEnergy had to begin cutting back power deliveries right away to meet the terms of the new law.

Hmm.  You know what really sucks about this?  If you have seen the letter from FirstEnergy VP of Customer Service John Paganie, it seems like they’re giving these lamps away for free:

We are pleased to provide you with two energy-efficient CFLs. When you install these bulbs in place of two 100-watt incandescent bulbs in your home, you could save about $30 over the life of each bulb.  Here’s how:

Traditional incandescent bulbs cost less to buy than CFLs, but they might only last 750 hours. Your new CFLs should last 10,000 hours, which is 10 times as long. This means you would need to buy more than 13 traditional bulbs to equal the lifespan of one CFL.

Also, your new CFLs will use 75 percent less electricity than a standard 100-watt incandescent bulb, and will produce the same amount of light. When you combine the longer life and decreased energy usage of the CFL, you can see significant, long-term savings for each bulb you replace.

FirstEnergy’s Ohio utility companies – The Illuminating Company, Ohio Edison and Toledo Edison – are providing these light bulbs to residential customers in Ohio.

We’re dedicated to helping our customers reduce the amount of electricity they use while increasing their energy efficiency. These CFLs are just one simple way you can improve energy efficiency in your home. We’ve also enclosed a booklet with more than 100 energy-saving tips.
For additional information, please visit firstenergycorp.com/energyefficiency.

Thanks, and enjoy your two compact fluorescent light bulbs!

Sincerely,
John Paganie
FirstEnergy Vice President of Energy Efficiency and Customer Service

What the hell.  Doesn’t this seem like a bit of a misleading statement?  I think it does, and apparently thousands of Ohioans also thought it did, because the Ohio Public Utilities Commission, who approved the program in the first place, has turned around and said that they have now asked FirstEnergy to postpone the start of the program until someone knows what on Earth it is going to cost, and what exactly is going on.  From the Consumerist website, a pro-consumer news site (I’m sure you know who they are), who posted the response from the PUCO on the FirstEnergy backlash:

“The PUCO has received a large volume of calls and emails in response to the compact fluorescent light bulb program approved last month for FirstEnergy. Today, I received a letter from Gov. Strickland asking that the PUCO postpone the program until such time as we can address several questions raised by the governor, members of the Ohio General Assembly and FirstEnergy customers related to program details and costs.

As a result, I have asked FirstEnergy to postpone deployment of its compact fluorescent light bulb program until the Commission can thoroughly assess the costs associated with this program. The PUCO approved the program following consensus reached during discussions among the company and other organizations including the Office of the Ohio Consumers’ Counsel and the Natural Resources Defense Council.

Although the PUCO allowed FirstEnergy to implement its program, we did not approve the charge that will appear on monthly bills as a result. Reports in the media place the cost to customers at sixty cents per month for three years, which equates to $21.60 over the life of the program. The PUCO has not approved these additional dollars nor have we received a request by the company to do so.

The PUCO will gather additional information regarding the program and its related costs. Until the PUCO has specific details regarding the program costs, FirstEnergy should not deploy its compact fluorescent light bulb program.”

I’ll be watching for more information on this ridiculance. If you have any more news about the program, please contact me via the contact form and I will get that info published right now.

A record of the legal case for this ridiculance is here – it’s a dry read, but interesting nonetheless.

A Big Post About Compact Fluorescents

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I’ve been collecting information about CFLs for a few months now, and I’ve kept from writing this post for some reason until now.  There is so much back and forth out there about compact fluorescents versus incandescents, compact fluorescents versus using halogens at a lower intensity via a dimmer, and the economy versus compact fluorescents.

There is a fact of life that impacts the sale of CFLs right now – Americans, as well as people all over the world, are freaking broke.  A dollar difference in a loaf of bread or a gallon of milk is a big deal when everything else is costing more.  We’re in a crapstorm, and when you’re dealing with a 3-4 times price increase between incandescent lamps and CFLs, what do you think people are going to buy?  Most people are not versed in looking towards the long-term benefits of anything; a good example is the fact that McDonalds is experiencing record growth and profits in this economic downturn.  Hmm.

There are some major factors that play into compact fluroescent market share – cost vs. cost savings, output quality, manufacturing quality, application, and yes, aesthetic preference.

Maybe it’s easiest to start out with the most subjective issue – aesthetic choice, and how most people feel about the light emitted by CFLs.  It’s not hard to find pretty harsh criticism on compact fluorescent lamps, all you have to do is look nearly any review of the matter.  A lot of people do not like the quality of light that comes from compact fluorescent sources.  Sometimes this is an understatement – some people downright hate CFL light.  A New York Times article on the subject of CFLs versus incandescents had some people quoted on their feelings towards CFLs:

My experience with the new bulbs has been dismal. The quality of the light is bad until they warm up. They cost 3 to 5 times as much as an incandescent, and if you have old-fashioned energy-saving habits like turning off the lights when you leave the room, they don’t last any longer than the tungsten bulbs (sometimes less). And they’re more difficult to dispose of properly because of the toxic content. Maybe L.E.D. lights will be better if the price can become reasonable.

And:

There’s a difference between a low-flow toilet (which, if it performs properly, shouldn’t be an obvious change) and light bulbs that make your entire family look like cadavers.

And my personal favorite, leaving my opinion out of it altogether:

The amount of whining and the unwillingness to make small sacrifices of aesthetic preference in order to support an effort to save the habitability of our planet is disgusting. No wonder this country is such a mess.

At least we know how people really feel – and it’s not hard to see what people mean about looking like corpses.  The fluorescent lighting does have a tendency to make people look pretty crappy.  I’m a lighting designer, so light quality is something that gets a lot of attention in our home.  However, we do use a lot of CFLs in our home, too – the cost savings do add up.  We use a compact fluorescent anywhere that is what we consider a “medium-use space” – the laundry room, the back porch, the front porch, the garage, and in lamps that get turned on infrequently – like the one in the room with our television and video games.  However, I use incandescents in the kitchen and in the dining room.  The kitchen gets a lot of use, but the dining room does not.  I just like to make the food I prepare look good.  Could I do this with a CFL, or a few CFLs?  Sure.  But I have some incandescents I like for their color temperature, light output, and quality, and they are four of very few incandescents still in the house.

Now to be fair, there are “cool white” and “warm white” CFLs.  As a a matter of fact, most CFLs have both the lumens and the color temperature stamped on the package somewhere, in most cases.  There are certainly some cheapos that are in packaging with as little info as possible, and these are usually pretty crappy quality CFLs.  It’s also a fact that a large portion of the population could give a damn about what any of those numbers on the box mean – as long as it screws in, turns on, and doesn’t burn out this month, they’re happy.  Buying the right color temperature for the right application and feel is a principle that is not lost on those of us who know light and its idiosyncrasies.  However, this is lost on most people.  Buying cold CFLs and putting them in the living room might just make your whole family look like dead people.  It’s not a terribly difficult to understand concept – incandescents (generally) are warm, towards the amber end of the color spectrum – like a face flushed from the first Scotch of the evening.  Compact fluorescents generally sit on the blue end of the spectrum, high color temperature, and seem to take the blood out of a person’s face.

The interesting aspect of the aesthetic argument is that tests have been done that suggest that people on average cannot tell the difference with modern CFLs and incandescents unless they see the actual lamp.

Looking at cost, CFLs range between about $1.75 and $5 each – and incandescent sources (except maybe the Reveal lamp) being around 25 cents at the cheapest and a dollar at the most.  Operating costs are just as dramatic of a difference, with an average of 70% savings over incandescents.  It’s hard for people to see this long term, but look at some numbers:

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There are efforts to ban the incandescent lamp all over the world.  I realize this is just to force the population to exhibit a little energy savings, but I personally hate the thought of not having incandescent sources at my disposal as a lighting designer.  I am all for energy savings and being good to Mother Earth.  However, there are certain applications where we just don’t have a comparable quality source.  This is a fact.  Companies are working on it, so we’ll see how that goes.

Manufacturing quality of CFLs is like anything else manufactured – there are some superior brands and types and some very, very bad brands and types.  Some have a lot of mercury, some have little mercury.  There are also a lot – a lot – of Energy Star rated CFLs that actually do not meet the standards.  A lot of CFLs failed 2008 standards – there are more than 3,000 CFLs that meet the 2003 Energy Star standards, but 1,100 of these lamps fail the 2008 standard.  It might also be noteworthy that the Department of Energy has given a grace period until July 1, 2009 for those companies whose products failed the 2008 standards to sell about 100 million lamps that haven’t sold because of the economy.  It might also be due to the poor quality of some of them, too.  But that’s just a guess.  A company called the Environmental Working Group has published this ridiculously long list of FAIL lamps.  The report from EWG lists CFLs that are stamped with the Energy Star logo, but failed 2008 standards.  How do you like that?  167 brands, give or take, failed.

I’d check out that list.  You’ll be surprised who is on it.

Now on the other side, there are CFLs who have a low mercury content and a high longevity.  Treehugger posted a “cream of the crop” list of CFLs:

  • Earthmate’s Mini-size bulbs-13, 15, 20 and 25 Watt
  • Litetronic’s Neolite-10, 15, 20, 23 Watt
  • Sylvania Micro-Mini-13, 20 and 23 Watt
  • Sylvania DURA-ONE-reflector bulbs
  • Feit EcoBulb
  • MaxLite
  • Philips with Alto lamp technology

Energy Star has a standard equivalent wattage chart:

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One of the big contentions of CFL haters is the mercury issue.  Mercury is a poison.  Mercury poisoning doesn’t sound like anything I want to take part in at all, nor do I want anyone else to have it.  I’ve read stories about a woman breaking a CFL in her home and acquiring a $2000 clean up bill.  Why that happened, I do not know – but clean up experts say that hazard removal services aren’t required for breaking a lamp in your house.  I wouldn’t be freebasing the broken lamp or sucking on the broken tube, but you probably don’t need five guys in full hazmat gear trapsing through your house, either.

There are some guidelines for cleaning up a broken CFL.  You should take a few precautions, you know, to be safe.  Most of these are common sense:

  1. get children and your newborn baby out of the immediate area of the broken lamp.
  2. air out the room for 5-10 minutes, if possible.
  3. put on some gloves and a mask to clean up the broken lamp.
  4. put the pieces in a glass jar of plastic container, and seal it all up.
  5. wipe up the floor and clean your hands and such.
  6. recycle, don’t throw away, the busted CFL.

Seems pretty painless, maybe inonvenient.  It is a pain to dispose of CFLs, but don’t toss them in the garbage.  Take a few moments, find the recycling program for CFLs near you, and take them there.  If you don’t have time to take them there, seal them up in the garage or other out-of-the-way place and wait until you can.

Nothing is without its negative aspects.  Take tiramisu for example.  Delicious, but it makes my ass big.

Thanks to the EWG, Treehugger, EcoGeek, and NYT!

CFLs or Dimmed Halogen Lamps?

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Dimmer maker Lutron says that by dimming a halogen lamp by 30% will give you many of the same benefits as using a compact fluorescent lamp.  Lutron also says that a 3,000 hour halogen lamp will last 12,000 hours when dimmed by that 30%.

What do you think? I know that I love incandescent light – CFL light quality often tends to be sickly, and often isn’t very flattering.  Now it is getting a little better, but in my designer eyes incandescent light still renders better.  It’s also free of mercury, and I can recycle it easier.  However, CFLs do have a lot less heat exchange, and are a bit safer, especially when my cat knocks them over.  Over a longer period of time, you’re going to save more money using compact fluorescents – but it is undenyable that halogen/incandescent light looks better – at least right now.

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Thanks, DVICE and Lutron!

Smart Lite – Use That Ballast!

As we know, CFLs are certainly more efficient and longer lasting than incandescent lamps in most cases.  We also know that CFLs have that lovely Mercury issue, and recycling them can sometimes be a major pain in the rear.  Another thing you might not know is that the compact fluorescent lamp also has a weird two component-one-piece design with a bulb (the glass envelope, the curly thing) and a ballast (down near the screw base).  In essence, the design makes sense:  a powerplant/starter and a fluorescing source.

Right?

Well, think of a typical fluorescent fixture, with four foot tubes.  When you replace a tube, you’re just replacing the light emitting part, not the whole ballast.  If you’ve ever changed out a ballast, you’d know that it’s buried up inside the fixture, and not that easy to access.  The other bit of weirdness with the ballast is that they will last upwards of 50,000 hours – but the fluorescent bulb lasts upwards of 5,000 hours.  CFLs are the same way – the ballast WAY outlasts the bulb, by a factor of ten.  So most times you chuck a CFL, you’re throwing away a spent bulb and a usable ballast.  This isn’t always the case, but most times it’s the case.

A company called 3E Technologies has invented (but unfortunately not yet produced for sale) a CFL that they called the Smart Lite, with an efficiency of 65 lumens/watt, or a 62.5% improvement over existing CFLs.  The best thing about thew Smart Lite?  When the bulb stops working, you twist it off of the ballast, recycle that sucker, and twist a new bulb onto the ballast.  Smart Lite claims a 50,000 hour ballast and 10,000 hour bulbs.

It’s a start!  There’s a video on the 3E Technologies website for Smart Lite – it’s quick, but it shows how the Smart Lite bulb replacement works.

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Espacio de Creación Artística Contemporánea’s CFL Video Wall

The folks over at Enlighter posted an excellent article about the Espacio de Creación Artística Contemporánea in Cordoba, Spain.  The article centers on the media facade for this building, which was commissioned by Realities:United from Berlin – the building itself was designed by Nieto Sobejano Architects in Madrid.

The media facade is made up of compact fluorescent sources that illuminate little caverns of various sizes and shapes in the facade, none of which seem to be similar.  From the article:

The departure point for the formal development of the façade was found in the significant inner structure of the building made up of a tessellated (self repeating) pattern of polygonal shaped rooms. This motive was translated in the topography of the outer surface of the building. Here the GRC (glass fibre reinforced cement) surface shows a system of irregular shaped indentations of varying density and size. Those “bowls” are individually lit and become “pixels” of a large display system.  Each bowl appears to be unique in shape and size. Also the distribution of the bowls appears to be irregular. Only the distribution density stays consistent. In addition the panels carrying the bowls come in three different types differing in the average size and number of the bowls molded into their surface.

According to the article, the video frame rate is about 20 fps.  I found a video of the project, check it out below:

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Thanks, Mitja from Enlighter!

Ed Hammer, Father of the CFL

I just read a really interesting article at CNET about Ed Hammer, the father of the compact fluorescent lamp, or “CFL,” as it’s affectionately called.  The CFL – an invention that got shelved at its birth because of a $25 million bill for manufacturing.

Check out the article.  Thanks, CNET! Consumer Reports also has an interesting article with Ed Hammer, in the format of ten questions for Ed.

Ed Hammer, Father of the CFL, apparently also does a podcast on the technology at http://www.drop-the-hammer.com/ – although there haven’t been any posts since June.