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Time to Say Goodbye to Incandescent Lightbulbs?

President Biden plans to phase out the traditional bulbs within the next year.

By:  |  May 5, 2022  |    650 Words
ettyImages-73167742 incandescent lightbulb

(Photo illustration by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

Is the age of the incandescent lightbulb over? President Biden recently announced that he is banning these traditional bulbs, starting in the year 2023. Could this be the end of Thomas Edison’s brilliant – and many say beautiful – bulb that lit up homes and businesses for more than a century?

On Tuesday, April 26, President Biden approved two new rules that will phase out the sale of almost all incandescent lightbulbs and force stores to sell the light emitting diode (LED) or fluorescent light in its place. The reason is that modern LED or fluorescent bulbs are more energy-efficient, which means they use less electricity to run.

GettyImages-517317548 Thomas Edison

Thomas Edison (Getty Images)

The Story of the Lightbulb

Before the lightbulb, people often illuminated their homes by burning candles or oil lamps. With the discovery that we could harness electricity using magnets and copper wire, there was soon a race to light up cities and houses. Thomas Edison is usually given credit for inventing the lightbulb in 1879, even though lots of people had been working on similar technology, including British inventor Sir Humphry Davy.

The lightbulb worked by burning a filament (a thin thread) set within a glass container that worked as a vacuum (a place where air has been removed). One problem was that the lightbulbs would quickly burn out – a problem Edison set out to solve. He tried passing electricity through a simple cotton thread coated in carbon – and found that instead of burning, the substance glowed brightly. Thus, the incandescent lightbulb was invented!

Advantages and Disadvantages of Lightbulbs

About 150 years later, the old-fashioned lightbulb is not in favor anymore.

The incandescent bulb filament can pop or burn out over time, while LEDs can last up to ten times longer. Edison’s bulbs also waste energy by producing heat, unlike LEDs.

The United States isn’t the first country to ban incandescent lightbulbs. The first countries to announce a ban were Cuba and Venezuela in 2005, followed by Australia in 2007. European nations then phased out the bulb, too.

About one-third of all light bulbs sold in the US during 2020 were incandescent. What can people expect from the new bulbs?

lightbulb

From left to right: LED lightbulb, incandescent bulb, and a fluorescent bulb (Photo Illustration by Scott Olson/Getty Images)

LED bulbs work by passing an electric current through a semiconductor (microchip), while florescent bulbs pass electricity through a metal called mercury. There are some safety concerns when it comes to fluorescent bulbs breaking – since mercury is toxic, it can be dangerous to touch or replace a broken bulb. An LED bulb seems to be a safer option for the home.

Not everyone is happy about the switch, though. One problem is that incandescent lightbulbs are cheaper than LED bulbs. For example, an incandescent bulb is normally about $1, while LED bulbs cost nearly $4 each.

Others feel they would rather have a choice in what bulbs they use at home.

Another complaint is that the light from LED or fluorescent bulbs is not as pleasant as the golden glow given off by incandescent bulbs. It is often a harsh, blue or white light. Scientific studies have shown that lighting affects a person’s mental and physical health. Could the new lights affect how people feel and act?

Despite these issues, many praise the environmental benefits of switching to LED and fluorescent bulbs.

“[T]here’s no good reason for manufacturers to keep selling 19th-century technology that just isn’t very good at turning electrical energy into light,” said Steven Nadel of the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy. The new rules “will finally phase out energy-wasting bulbs across the country.”

What would that great American inventor, Thomas Edison, think? Would he defend his incandescent bulb or welcome the new technology?

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