Monday, April 25, 2011

Switch to Incandescents to Save the Environment (in California)

Stocking up before their removal from the market: Edison would be proud
In honor of Earth Day I replaced six compact fluorescent light bulbs with old-style incandescents. No, I didn't misspeak. What brought me to the edge of this decision was the potential hazard of mercury poisoning from breaking a CFL bulb, but what pushed me over the brink was the report about the release of toxic gases from operating the CFL's. More studies need to be performed, but meanwhile, I'm willing to pay for the slight increase in our electricity bill (upper limit of $10 per year per bulb) from retroconverting the lamps in all the bedrooms in order to reduce the cancer risk to the members of my household.

Let's put aside the question of whether my use of old-style bulbs will cause the polar ice caps to melt. The Department of Energy says that more mercury will be released into the environment from using incandescents because: 1) incandescents use more energy; 2) half the electrical energy in the U.S. comes from coal-fired plants; 3) burning coal produces mercury.

DOE Table

Let's take a closer look at how much mercury is produced from operating an incandescent light bulb in California, where your humble servant resides. According to the 2008 Department of Energy profile of California's energy sources, 1.1% of California's electricity comes from coal.

Now let's redo the Table 1 calculations for California, reducing the mercury penalty to one-fiftieth of the national average:

A CFL in California produces five times as much mercury as an Edison bulb over 8,000 hours of use. My fellow Californians, in belated recognition of Earth Day switch to incandescents to save your family and save the environment. Your children and grandchildren will thank you. © 2011 Stephen Yuen

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