In 2012, any bulb emitting the amount of light a
100-watt bulb does today must use only 72 watts.
WASHINGTON — From light bulbs to clothes washers, the energy law passed by Congress and signed by President Bush in December will change many of the appliances in the average American home.
The incandescent light bulb, invented two centuries ago and perfected and popularized by Thomas Edison in the late 1800s, will become a thing of the past by the middle of the next decade.
The look of the future? The curvaceous compact fluorescent bulbs that recently have become popular and other bulbs featuring light-emitting diodes or other advanced technologies.
The energy law will also bring about important but less noticeable changes in the way clothes washers, dishwashers, boilers and dehumidifiers use energy and water.
The goal is to reduce U.S. electricity use, a major source of greenhouse gases that scientists say contribute to global climate change. Half of the nation’s electricity generation comes from coal-fired plants, which emit carbon dioxide. Moreover, if households cut electricity used for lighting and appliances, it could become easier to introduce electric cars, which could cut oil use without creating the need for a massive, new electricity-generating investment.
Five percent to 10 percent of residential electricity goes into lighting, making it a prime target for policymakers searching for energy savings. If every American household replaced just one incandescent bulb with a compact fluorescent bulb, the country would conserve enough energy to light 3 million homes and save more than $600 million annually. It would be as if 800,000 cars were taken off the road, according to a Web site maintained by the Energy Department and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Cutting down the amount of electricity used for light bulbs makes economic sense for homeowners, too, though most consumers are reluctant to make the switch. “These bulbs will be more expensive, but for a light bulb that you have on a couple of hours a day, the electricity is more expensive than the bulb,” said Lowell Ungar, a senior analyst at the Alliance to Save Energy. “It will pay back in a few months.”
Compact fluorescent bulbs can screw into existing sockets, and they last many times longer than traditional lights.
Homeowners’ reluctance prompted lawmakers to illuminate the path forward.
The new energy law says that in 2012, any bulb emitting the amount of light a 100-watt bulb does today must use only 72 watts. In 2014, 40-, 60- and 75-watt bulbs will have to cut energy consumption by similar percentages.
In 2020, the required energy savings become even more stringent, limiting electricity usage to about a quarter of today’s incandescent bulbs.
Even before the law, the nation’s light-bulb makers had been scrambling to come up with new technologies to meet the standards and the sudden increase in demand for energy-saving bulbs.
General Electric says it has come up with a more efficient incandescent bulb that would meet the intermediate standards to take effect in the next decade, but it hasn’t begun selling it.
The main beneficiary of the push to reduce energy used by lighting has been the compact fluorescent bulb, invented by a General Electric engineer in 1976 but long neglected by consumers and manufacturers. Now, sales of energy-efficient bul
bs are doubling annually, and sales of traditional incandescent bulbs have been falling at an annual rate of about 10 percent to 12 percent, according to Charlie Jerabek, chief executive of Osram Sylvania.
“The dynamics are in place, and the new legislation will just accelerate it,” said Jerabek.
Unlike incandescent bulbs, compact fluorescent bulbs contain no filament.
They are gas-filled tubes with an electronic ballast.
When turned on, an electric current flows through the gas, which emits ultraviolet light.
That excites a white phosphor coating, which produces visible light.
The tubes are twisted so their shape resembles an incandescent bulb.
There are drawbacks, however. The bulbs can fade before burning out.
And because the bulbs contain mercury, homeowners must be careful if one breaks. (Guidelines: Open windows, use disposable gloves, seal debris in a plastic bag, don’t use vacuum cleaners. More instructions are available on the Energy Department and EPA’s Energy Star Web site.)
In addition, many consumers fault the bulbs for being too white — giving a room all the charm of a late-night bus terminal — or too slow to switch on. Manufacturers say their newest bulbs address those problems. For bulbs with “warmer” color, look for lower Kelvin ratings, around 2,700. The brighter, “colder” bulbs have much higher Kelvin ratings.
Manufacturers say they are coming up with ways for compact fluorescent bulbs to turn on more quickly. Some of the bulbs, but not all, can also be used in fixtures with dimmers.
Makers of halogen lights are also making a new push. Philips is pushing its Halogena bulb, which can screw into sockets used by traditional incandescent bulbs.
Also coming: Light-emitting diodes. They are made more like semiconductors than light bulbs. For now they’re too expensive, but costs are coming down. Unlike compact fluorescent bulbs, LEDs don’t contain any hazardous materials, Jerabek said. What’s more, LEDs use half as much energy as compact fluorescent bulbs.
For now, Osram Sylvania is offering its customers packaging to send the compact fluorescents back for recycling and prevent the mercury from leaking into the environment. The used recycling packs can be dropped off at FedEx Kinko’s locations or post offices.
Other home appliances will also be affected by the energy law, but the changes won’t be visible. Dishwashers and washing machines, for example, will have to meet new standards. Today’s average energy-efficiency standards will become the new minimum standards.
According to the Energy Department’s Web site, the average household does almost 400 loads of laundry a year, consuming about 13,500 gallons of water. By wringing out some energy and water consumption, more-efficient units could cut homeowners’ utility bills by an average of $50 a year.
For more efficiency, manufacturers are turning to front-loading washing machines. These machines account for more than 30 percent of sales, according to Earl Jones, a senior counsel for government and industry relations at GE, which made its first front-loading machine in 2006. The clothes tumble the way they do in a dryer and do not sit in a pool of water. As a result, they use less water, require less energy to heat the water and ease the energy-intensive job of the clothes dryer.
Over the 11-year lifetime of the typical clothes washer, that would save enough money to buy a new energy-efficient dryer or dishwasher, the Energy Department said.