Washington Examiner Defends Light Bulb Misinformation… with More Misinformation

By The Intersection | July 22, 2011 10:00 pm

by Jon WinsorLight Bulbs

The Washington Examiner’s Ron Arnold is a bit perturbed that anyone is calling out the misinformation campaign about the “incandescent light bulb ban.” So he’s trying to turn the tables:

Time claims: “Philips and other manufacturers are already making more efficient incandescent bulbs.” That’s short of an outright lie but it’s way beyond hogwash. What Philips is making is halogen lamps, which are incandescent alright, but complex electronic circuit devices about as close to an ordinary incandescent lamp as a third-degree burn, which you can efficiently obtain from a halogen lamp.

To all appearances it works just like an ordinary incandescent bulb, and looks almost the same (see upper right). If there are any weird, “complex electronic circuit devices” (CECDs), you can’t tell by looking at it.

Arnold continues:

Philips’ 36-page “product information” manual, shows on page 23 that their “Clickline” halogen lamp operates at temperatures as high as 480 degrees Fahrenheit (on the contacts), and 1,650 degrees F. (on the bulb). All aren’t that hot, but not by much. By the way, aluminum melts at 1,220.58 degrees Fahrenheit.

1,650 degrees F on the bulb? Melts Aluminum? Now you’ve got me scared. Only, not:

MORE ABOUT: Light Bulbs

Comments (20)

  1. Bob Koss

    In the video the bulb is installed in an open porcelain fixture. Since the heat source is above the point he is touching the bulb in the demo his experiment isn’t very satisfying since heat rises. I might be impressed if he put his figure near the neck of the bulb without burning it. I doubt you’ll see him try that though.

    Here are some details concerning safe operation of the EcoVantage halogen bulbs. Taken from this link.
    http://www.wegmans.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/ProductDisplay?langId=-1&storeId=10052&catalogId=10002&productId=670672

    “Warnings

    Before using bulb, see operating instructions. Adherence to the operating instructions will reduce the risk of personal injury or fire. The filament capsule contained inside this glass bulb is pressurized, operates at high temperature and could unexpectedly shatter. Should the outer bulb break, particles of extremely hot glass could be discharged into the fixture and/or the surrounding environment, thereby creating a risk of personal injury or fire.”

    So they do operate at high temperature. They can also unexpectedly shatter.

    “Directions

    Before replacing, turn off power and let lamp cool to avoid electrical shock or burn. For indoor use only. Do not allow hot bulb to come in contact with liquid or metal parts of the fixture as glass may shatter. Suitable for use in open fixtures. Do not exceed the maximum wattage rating of the fixture. Do not use if outer glass is scratched or broken since it may break during operation or removal. If outer glass breaks the lamp may continue to light, however, immediately discontinue use. Due to the heat that radiates from the bulb, do not use in close proximity to combustible materials or objects susceptible to drying or fading. Manage in accord with disposal laws. Turn off the power before changing light bulbs.”

    They are indoor use only, so don’t use one in your deck or entrance light.
    They are only suitable for open fixtures, so don’t use them in recessed fixtures or fixtures with globes.

    It appears the only place you can use them is as bare bulb or in fixtures with lamp shades. And those shades shouldn’t be combustible.

    Color me unimpressed.

  2. Nullius in Verba

    I quite agree.

    Incandescent light bulbs work by heating the filament until it is white hot, like the sun. At these sorts of temperatures, even the special materials they make the filaments out of start to evaporate, shortening the lifespan of the bulb.

    By including one of a particular class of chemical elements – chlorine, bromine, iodine; called the halogens – in the gas inside the bulb – a chemical reaction is set up in which metal from the filament reacts with the gas and is redeposited on it. This extends the lifecycle of the bulb considerably, and allows it to be run hotter, giving more and better light.

    In fact, to get the reaction to go properly, the entire bulb has to be run hotter, at temperatures where ordinary glass will soften. So they use either special high-temperature aluminosilicate glasses or quartz. This high-temperature envelope can not only cause burns and fires directly, but any surface contamination (from people’s grubby fingerprints, for example) can cause hotspots which can rupture the bulb (sometimes explosively). Since it’s hot, and at higher than atmospheric pressure, this can pose safety issues.

    Another safety issue is that the hotter filament emits more ultraviolet, which can damage the eyes. To get round both those issues, domestic halogen bulbs are often surrounded by a second glass envelope that blocks UV and keeps the surface temperature low. That’s what your guy in the video is touching.

    Ron’s problem is that he blindly cited the experts without understanding all the nuances himself – he didn’t make his numbers up, he got them out of the datasheet the manufacturers published. The datasheet is undoubtedly talking about the temperature of the quartz bulb. Single-envelope halogen bulbs do run hot, and are well-known as a safety hazard. Double-envelope bulbs don’t and aren’t. He trusted the experts, which is a bad thing for a sceptic to do.

    It’s definitely quite a bit more complex than an ordinary incandescent. Whether that justifies his technological hyperbole is something I’ll leave to the language-oriented to argue over. (I’d be inclined to say it did not, but I can sort of see the point he was getting at.) Obviously, you can’t tell the complexity of an electronic circuit device just by looking at the outside.

    But the main argument I’d have against the article is that it’s diverting us down the same technical rabbit hole as those arguing for the ban – it’s not about whether the new bulbs are good or bad – safer, brighter, cheaper, whatever – it’s about choice and freedom. It’s about economic protectionism.

    If you’ve made a better bulb, then tell everybody so they can freely choose to buy it. They’re not stupid. If you show them, and explain to them, and market it right, they’re quite capable of understanding. That’s what the free market is for.

    As soon as they see you have to force them to choose your product by law, people are immediately suspicious that there’s something wrong with it. When Nanny takes such elaborate precautions to make you take your medicine, it’s a good bet that it’s going to taste bad. She wouldn’t do that for stuff that tasted really nice.

    And as a side-note, I’d say it would be worth it to not market them as “eco”. As a brand, that has connotations of an inferior and more expensive product for those who want to wear a hairshirt for their eco-sins. It attracts a particular market segment, but repels everyone else.

    Brighter, whiter, saves a dollar every 500 hours of operation. That’s how you ought to sell it. Tell people why it’s better. Don’t force it on them “for their own good”.

  3. Jon

    It appears to me that “Clickline” and “EcoVantage” (as seen in the video) are two different products, although I haven’t checked their respective datasheets to see what the differences (other than the obvious form factor differences) are. While I doubt much aluminum-melting would be going on, halogen bulbs do get hot enough to start fires, which is why torchiere-style lamps cover the halogen capsule with a metal screen shield. In the “EcoVantage” case it appears that the capsule is isolated inside a conventional form factor glass bulb and that’s probably why it’s safe to touch on the end (a direction which probably is shadowed relative to the light source and thus cooler as the video notes).

    I’d also offer that, while the EcoVantage bulb may qualify under the efficiency regs, the economics are pretty iffy compared to CFLs as they claim to last about as long as a standard filament bulb but cost several times as much. Probably about a wash costwise while a CFL is a clear win over its stated lifetime. If they fall down the price curve that will help but they’re always going to be costlier than CFLs, so people had better suck it up and get used to less-yellow light (at least until LEDs in their turn get cheap, but that’s some years off).

  4. ColinC

    I really do enjoy your writing Jon, but “prohibit the sale of” means “ban” no matter how you slice it. If we quibble over language, we are completely losing meaning.

    The issue is, as Howard points out in another section of that article, cost. He’s using obfuscatory tactics, you are using obfuscatory tactics, and Bachmann is using obfuscatory tactics. Another name for obfuscatory tactics could be “Washington Politics”, but that’s quibbling over language.

    Howard is right that the temperature gets that high, just as you are right that the temperature at the surface is lower. Burns aren’t likely, but if the bulb is broken fires are likely. This is all hand waving to try to capture the attention of people not motivated by the main issue. Cost. In the long run, incandescent bulbs cost more, but in the very short run, they are cheaper and safer than halogen and CFLs.

    I use LED lights for this reason, but that’s a matter of choice. I thought that the Democratic party was supposed to be the party that promotes individual freedoms?

  5. Chris Caprette

    More of that “liberal” media attacking a good American company! Oh, wait…

  6. Marion Delgado

    Anschluss runs the examiner.coms and he’s trying to be the new Murdoch, mostly with online stuff, and mostly following the Drudge model. He’s the one inflicting Tom Fuller on us.

  7. You either incorporate the externalities via taxation, or you regulate. Nullius would have us do neither.

  8. Nullius in Verba

    #7,

    In this case there are no significant externalities. The argument being made in their favour is about cost efficiency rather than global warming, so all the relevant price signals are included. People buying inefficient lightbulbs pay higher electricity bills.

    Even if you wanted to extend matters to global warming – changing a few lightbulbs will have no measurable effect on the climate – even under mainstream assumptions about the effects CO2 has – so there’s no significant external cost to incorporate, and in any case making lightbulbs more efficient will have exactly the opposite effect than you intend, because of Jevon’s paradox.

    Greater energy efficiency allows you to produce more value for a given quantity of energy, which has the same effect as making electricity cheaper. It means people will use more of it.

    I’m all in favour of people using more efficient lightbulbs, where they’re suitable. I’m just not in favour of forcing them all to do so, to suit some manufacturer’s undeserved profits.

  9. Little contributions make big accumulations, that’s what it’s all about.

  10. Nullius in Verba

    #9,

    Little contributions make little accumulations, in my experience. What is it that you think you are accumulating?

  11. The Intersection

    ConlinC in #4 I really do enjoy your writing Jon, but “prohibit the sale of” means “ban” no matter how you slice it. If we quibble over language, we are completely losing meaning.

    Here’s Rush Limbaugh:

    As you know, liberal Democrats have targeted for extinction one of the greatest inventions in history. Unless there’s a policy reversal, next year the 100-watt incandescent light bulb will be banned. Two years after that, 75-, 60-, and 40-watt incandescent bulbs will go away.

    Without quibbling over language, what does that imply? After that, Rush discusses being forced to use CFL’s. I suppose inefficient light bulbs are being “banned”. But you could also say some cars are “banned” when you raise CAFE standards, or household appliances are “banned” when you raise their standards.

    –Jon Winsor

  12. Cathy

    The main reason we switched to CFLs? Don’t have to change em as often. I suppose the lower operating cost is nice, but we don’t even really notice the difference in the lights themselves. 10 ft ceilings in our house means changing a lightbulb is an elaborate procedure involving the tall ladder, and only having to change each bulb once every five years is blessing enough just from the convenience factor.

  13. Well, I guess it’s correct that changing an individual light bulb would have only a tiny effect on CO2 emissions. Why it would take millions of bulbs to have – oh wait….

    And yes, the Jevons data-free argument. Of course in a previous thread Nullius was arguing that people couldn’t be using light bulbs at the rate to generate the estimated monetary savings. Now he’s arguing the use rate will triple when people switch to CFLs. When we switch to LEDs I guess every block will look like Times Square.

  14. Nullius in Verba

    “Well, I guess it’s correct that changing an individual light bulb would have only a tiny effect on CO2 emissions.”

    Thank you.

    “Why it would take millions of bulbs to have…”

    Trillions.

    “Now he’s arguing the use rate will triple when people switch to CFLs.”

    I said energy use, not lightbulb use, and the effect will be small.

  15. TTT

    @8: Greater energy efficiency allows you to produce more value for a given quantity of energy, which has the same effect as making electricity cheaper. It means people will use more of it.

    Where? Where will they use more lightbulbs than they used to? Will they build a bigger house to accommodate an extra bulb to take advantage of these savings?

    I’ve similarly been assured that if hybrid cars really did have cheaper operating costs, overall pollution outputs would be about the same because people would take advantage of lower fuel costs by driving more. During what newly-invented hours? Where in the Econ 101 textbook supply-demand curve does it give the name of the person who sees which car you own and reduces your job and family responsibilities accordingly?

  16. Nullius in Verba

    #15,

    You appear to have demonstrated that it is impossible for the American people to use any more energy, because there are no longer enough hours in the day, or room left in their house, for them to use it. Hurrah! An end to the endless growth in energy consumption!

    Now we can all relax, and go worry about something else, yes?

    #16,

    Interesting article. The logic appears to be that in one particular case efficiency was improved, and energy use did indeed go up, but that it happened not because it was cheaper, but because of all the other things that happen when energy and the things made with it get cheaper – like greater average income, bigger houses, and cheaper appliances. (Or does he think that such things have nothing to do with energy efficiency improvements?)

    He’s also making the same mistake of picking a single application of energy in isolation – lightbulbs in TTT’s case, air conditioners in James’s. It’s not that more efficient lightbulbs make people buy more lightbulbs. (Although they do.) It’s that more efficient lightbulbs allow people to use more energy. And they do. All sorts of technology has got vastly more efficient over the decades, and we use more energy now (more or less) than we ever did.

    You can continue to believe that making stuff cheaper will lead people to consume less, if you like. Like I said, I’m all in favour of making stuff cheaper and more efficient. I’m not fighting you on that one.

    I can only stand back in admiration and marvel at the way the big corporations have sold the idea to the Left. Totally awesome!

  17. Lighting is 9% of residential energy use:

    http://205.254.135.24/emeu/recs/recs2001/enduse2001/enduse2001.html

    Millions of bulbs will make a nice dent in that, and save people money. Somehow, I’m not outraged.

  18. peterdublin

    All banned anyway:

    Those bulbs are all banned before 2020 anyway in the 2007 Energy Act.
    45 lumen per Watt specification.

    The Energy Information Administration at Dept of Energy (see their
    press releases) also confirm that any lamp on the market in 2020
    “will have to be as efficient as CFLs” by such time.

    The halogen replacements have different light quality anyway and cost
    much more for marginal savings, so neither Govmts or Users like them –
    as seen in the poor availability, in small ranges, in post-ban EU.

    The industrial politics behind the ban,
    with references and copies of official communications
    http://ceolas.net/#li1ax
    .

  19. Area Man

    @#1:

    Basic physics tells you that if a bulb produces the same amount of light while using less energy, it must necessarily be generating less waste heat. If anti-efficiency jihadists were really concerned about people burning themselves, they’d be all in favor of more efficient bulbs.

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