The Truth About Compact Fluorescent Lights Part Two

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Using CFLs will Increase your Carbon Footprint, not Decrease it


What is the real energy cost of a CFL? What does it cost to Mine, Manufacture, Package, Ship, Sell, Operate, Dispose and Remediate the Environment? Moreover how do you put a cost on destroyed lives and human health?


Reducing your carbon footprint is the CFL’s raison d’etre. But before you decide to switch over to compact fluorescent lights it would be wise to first review an overall– from cradle to grave—analysis of the carbon footprint of a CFL, compared to an incandescent bulb, to be sure you are doing the right thing. One study conducted in Denmark,examined some carbon footprint factors, but not all, showed it took 1.8 Kwh of electricity to assemble a CFL compared to .11 Kwh to assemble an incandescent bulb. That means it took 16 times more energy to produce a CFL.

See these tests: Link1>> Link2>>

This study did not include the fact a CFL is much heavier and is more dangerous to handle will thus cost more to package, to ship, and to sell. This research also did not calculate the energy required to safely dispose of a CFL. If they had, common sense tell us s it would take hundreds of times more energy than an incandescent bulb.

Also, to be fair, we must factor in the costs of removing the mercury from our landfills and the cost in destroyed lives, illnesses, and lost human potential. If such a study could be done that took in all the above factors, it would show a CFL has a massive carbon footprint, one that would dwarf a regular incandescent light bulb and that would also show CFLs leaving a wake of environmental destruction to boot.

CFLs: Hundreds of millions are spent trying to save a fraction of our energy consumption.
To put your lighting energy consumption into perspective, lets look at the Sector Sustainability Tables listed in the Government of Canada website. Our homes consume 16% of all the energy used in Canada, with our lights using 5% of that. When you do the math you find residential lighting represents .8 percent of the total energy consumption in Canada. Wow! We are spending billions of dollars in the wrong place, in a fruitless effort reduce a fraction of our energy consumption. It would be much ‘power smarter’ to focus on water heating than light bulbs. Your electric hot water tank consumes five times as much electricity as your lights. If we made our hot water heating 10% more efficient by using inexpensive technology already available, we would save as much energy as we would by switching completely over to compact fluorescent lights. It would be cheaper, simpler, and have less detrimental environmental effects. These are simple observations that have seemed to have eluded our sustainable energy gurus.

Lighting is a fraction of all our overall energy consumption and has a limited potential for energy savings. Nevertheless, we should be conserving wherever we can. At the same time we should not forget that switching our incandescent bulbs to compact fluorescent lights poses a whole range of negative environmental and health impacts with very little, if any, real energy savings.

Residential lighting takes up .8% of energy consumption in Canada

CFLs have energy losses during operation which you are not told about; losses that eliminate any energy savings over an incandescent light.
An incandescent light has a power factor of 1. On average a CFL has a power factor of .6. That means there are 40% energy losses in operating the CFL. This does not show up on your power bill but the power company has to supply 40% more power than what the bulb is rated for. This translates into higher electrical bills for everyone as the power company spreads out their losses to recoup their lost revenue. CFLs could take twice as much energy to operate than what is on the label, and still be listed as an energy star product.
This is something their promoters have neglected to tell us and this is never added to their energy consumption calculations.

Vancouver Sun, Feb 17, 2009. BC Hydro; “Energy efficient bulbs increase greenhouse gases. Because they burn cooler, they cause home heating to rise,” utility reports.

Hydro also states that “lighting regulations (banning incandescent lights) will increase GHG emissions in Hydro’s service territory by 45,000 tons due to cross effects of a switch to cool-burning bulbs.”

The ‘cross effect’ BC Hydro is referring to is the loss of heat from hotter incandescent bulbs when we switch over to cooler burning CFLs. To make up for the lost heat we now have to turn up our electric heat, or worse, our oil or gas furnace which will leave us consuming more energy sometimes creating more green house gases than before we made the switch. In the summertime because of our longer days both lighting and heating are used much less so the general rule still applies.

For the moment let us just consider a CFL’s carbon footprint during its operation. When you take in losses due to the lower power factor as well as the heating energy losses in colder climates, using compact fluorescent lights will not reduce your carbon footprint when compared to a regular light bulb. In fact there is good evidence that shows that using CFLs will increase your carbon footprint.