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Cloud, by Calgary artist Caitlind r.c. Brown and Wayne Garrett, features 6,000 new and burnt-out incandescent bulbs and is rear-lit by 250 CFLs. (Doug Wong)
Cloud, by Calgary artist Caitlind r.c. Brown and Wayne Garrett, features 6,000 new and burnt-out incandescent bulbs and is rear-lit by 250 CFLs. (Doug Wong)


The death of the incandescent light bulb Add to ...

Those who love the warm glow of incandescent light bulbs have one year left to indulge their passion. The Canadian government is set to follow the lead of other industrialized countries and ban the old bulbs in favour of energy-efficient alternatives such as compact fluorescent lights (CFLs).

CFLs have been around for over 20 years, but it’s only recently that governments have begun to force them onto consumers with legislation that outlaws the alternatives. Australia and Europe began phasing out incandescent bulbs in 2009. The United States banned the manufacture of 100-watt incandescent bulbs at the start of 2012 (without any enforcement provisions yet). And Canada is set to end the sale of 75- and 100-watt bulbs in January, 2014, followed by 40- and 60-watt bulbs at the end of the year.

For environmentalists, the demise of the incandescent bulb can’t come soon enough. In Canada alone, the federal government estimates that CFLs can reduce greenhouse gas emissions by more than six million tonnes a year, or the equivalent of retiring 1.4 million vehicles. In Germany, the switch to energy-efficient bulbs will save the equivalent capacity of three nuclear reactors.

People opposed to the ban on incandescent bulbs point to the inferior quality of light from CFLs, the steeper purchase price—and, more importantly, government interference with consumer choice. For them, the ban on incandescents is a flagrant attack on competition.

But if the response to the ban so far is any indication, these criticisms are misplaced. Far from stifling business activity, energy-efficient bulbs are expected to propel growth in the global lighting market, which is expected to increase to $130-billion by 2020, according to McKinsey & Co. And entrepreneurial enthusiasm for CFLs has not dimmed despite tumbling prices: A six-pack of 23-watt bulbs retails for around $20.

Even more encouraging, manufacturers have become remarkably innovative at improving the light quality of energy-efficient bulbs. Light-emitting diodes, or LEDs, are the next big thing; global lighting company Osram Sylvania, for one, believes it has a winner with its “Ultra LED,” an omnidirectional mercury-free bulb that aims to give all the warmth of a 100-watt incandescent bulb while using just 20 watts of electricity. The starting price: $50. But McKinsey expects LED and CFL prices will be comparable by 2015.

Not convinced? Then start stockpiling incandescents so you can bask in warm light—and big energy bills—for a little longer.

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