Friday, March 02, 2007

Stick That Up Your Light Socket

Southern California Edison wants to give me $200 for allowing them to install a remote control on my air conditioner. Oops, they will not be giving me $200 because I do not have an air conditioner.

This is akin to their program in 2001 that gave people rebates if they decreased their 2001 electricity usage (relative to 2000) by some percentage---I believe it was 10 or 20%. Of course, I didn’t qualify then because I had already reduced my electricity usage in 2000.

You see, California was being gamed by the likes of Enron during the summer of 2000. We had rolling blackouts. I was also at home, pregnant and on bed rest. It got hot up there on the second floor, especially because it was an unusually warm and muggy summer. I already mentioned that we don’t have an air conditioner. The sea breeze was weaker than usual that summer. It wouldn’t have made much difference, as I often had to close the west-facing windows anyway. My neighbor to the west didn’t want to smell up his apartment so he smoked outdoors, 5 feet away from my windows.

Oh, yeah, back to electricity and the summer of 2000. I was trying to do my bit for California by using as little electricity as possible. Also, like many pregnant women, I was very sensitive to heat. I went after every heat source in the house. I replaced the light bulbs we used most often with compact fluorescent bulbs (CFBs). I turned lights off whenever I left the room. I made Mark hang our laundry out on the clothesline. I put power strips everywhere so that I could shut off energy vampires (electronics) not in use. (They also protected the electronics from power surges, which happened frequently that summer.)

For all this effort, I got no reward---unless you count Governor Schwarzenegger. ;-) If I had been wasteful in 2000, then I would have been financially rewarded in 2001. If I had put in an air conditioner when we replaced the furnace, SCE would have given me $200 today. Oh, well.

Now, California’s legislators are talking about banning incandescent light bulbs altogether. There are so many more productive ways they can spend their time. Where to start?

First, CFBs cannot completely replace incandescent bulbs. Most CFBs hum when used in dimmable light fixtures. The few (and expensive) dimmable CFBs on the market do not have the same dynamic range as incandescent bulbs. Since CFBs take up to 15 minutes to reach maximum brightness, you wouldn’t want to use them for lights that are used only for short periods of time--say in a closet, a refrigerator or a bathroom.

There are also aesthetic considerations. Many things look more appealing under incandescent lights than under CFBs. This argument is becoming weaker as the CFBs continue to improve. In 2006, our first CFBs burned out and I replaced them with new ones. Because I had the old and new bulbs in the same room, I could immediately tell that the new ones gave off a more pleasant color spectrum than the old, first generation ones.

In my sewing room, I have 1 halogen, 1 incandescent, 1 CFB and 2 Ott-lights (“full-spectrum” fluorescent lights used by crafters). When working after dark, I like to check my color choices under all the different light sources. I also find that mixing the light source types produces less of a color bias.

If my overall electricity usage is much lower than that of most of my neighbors, why take away my choice to use incandescent light bulbs in a few places?

Slight digression
We have tiered electricity rates in California. I.e., the cost per kilowatt-hour goes up in a tiered fashion as energy usage goes up (baseline, 130% of baseline, 200% of baseline, etc). However, the baseline depends on where you live. Take a look at the baseline region map. The people who live near the coast subsidize the people who live inland because we don’t “need” air conditioners as much.

This is insane. People who live near the coast already pay a huge housing premium, and live in older and smaller homes on smaller lots. Yet we are forced to subsidize the electricity for all the new huge McMansions being built inland with their soaring cathedral ceilings and large lots. (Electricity use climbs with total volume of air that is cooled. Taller ceilings and more square feet = more total volume.) Why aren’t our elected officials debating that in Sacramento?

  • SCE FAQs about Baseline
  • SCE Baseline Allocation Chart (click on the Baseline Region Map)
  • The Power of Less The cheapest energy source is the one that you didn't use. You must read this wonderful article about energy conservation pioneer, Art Rosenfeld. That's only one of the 25 Brilliant California ideas (many green) in the Jan/Feb 2007 issue of California Monthly.
  • Procrastination and Climate Change thoughts about work, climate change, and my personal involvement.
  • Spectra of Fluorescent Light Bulbs from the LED Museum. See for yourself that some light bulbs are more "full spectrum" than others.
  • Tokyo Air Conditioners Heat Up Outside Air. The second law of thermodynamics applies to air conditioning use. "A study by scientists at several scientific institutions in Tokyo has found that the heat waste from office air conditioning units is causing a 1º - 2 º C temperature increase in the Tokyo office areas. This heating promotes the heat-island phenomenon in Tokyo on weekdays." The link goes to the current American Meteorological Society, AMS, Science Highlights. The paper is in the January 2007 AMS Journal of Applied Meteorology and Climatology.
  • Setting future energy consumption targets based on past profligacy is counterproductive and unfair. I previously wrote about it in On Time and MPG. That's also the Kyoto Protocol's major flaw. If you were not a developed (major energy consuming) nation in 1990, would you sign the treaty?
  • There are medical reasons why people need to avoid fluorescent lights. While the level of UV light emitted by fluorescent lights is safe for most people, it causes skin cancer and/or burns on people with a rare disease called Xeroderma Pigmentosum. The daughter of some friends suffers from this disease; they cannot use any light bulbs in the house more powerful than a 50 watt incandescent bulb. While the Australian law gives medical exemptions, would they have to bring over their own light bulbs when they come over for a playdate?
I get my CFBs at Costco and IKEA. They carry a selection of CFBs at very reasonable prices. IKEA accepts used CFBs for recycling in their customer service area. When buying multi-packs at Costco, I buy several sizes and split the packs with other families. That way, we each get the wattages we need. We put the used CFBs in the box for hazardous household waste in the garage. Because of the density in coastal LA, services like IKEA and hazardous waste collection sites are always nearby.


  1. I was an early CFL adopter. When I was a grad student I used one of the earliest designs, which I think cost me $15.00+ for a single bulb. It took a good minute or more to generate enough light to navigate in its vicinity in a dark room, and many many minutes to come to full brightness. The solution to this problem was simple: leave it on all the time. Hey - it's energy efficient, right? This bulb lasted until 2004 or so, on nearly full time during its 10 year life. The bulb was designed to replace a 60W incandescent light, so compared with 25% duty cycle (6H - evenings to bedtime) on a standard incandescent bulb, I think I still saved about 50% of my electricity use.

    The current issue that I have with CFLs is that they buzz. While I use them in many places around the house, I can't use them in the reading light next to my bed because the buzzing is so annoying. I'm reluctant to buy more until I know they don't buzz.

  2. I read in bed by the light of a CFB. I don't notice an audible hum. I got it at Costco. The base says "Greenlight, 15W/ELS-M-A 2700K, 120V 60HZ 250mA"