Not Exactly News: More on Lightbulbs

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The New York Times on Sunday covered the new technologies that are being explored to make incandescent lightbulbs more efficient. This is not exactly news, as we covered it two weeks ago and our friends at EcoGeek were talking about it before that. But it’s good to see that the issue is getting national attention, anyway.

The bottom line is that even the new-and-improved incandescents don’t pack nearly the efficiency of compact fluorescents. Moreover, the price point for the new incandescents is still higher than that of CFLs. So for now, stick with your CFLs and keep an eye on the emerging research.

But what’s interesting to see is the reason for the increased R&D. It stems partly from customer preference, yes – but at the same time, those customers probably would have continued buying incandescents regardless of their environmental impact. The real impetus behind the improved efficiency in incandescents is the legislation that demanded an efficiency level that threatened to doom the incandescent forever. It’s the same philosophy that underlies the Waxman-Markey bill currently in front of the Senate, or the Maine law mandating that manufacturers bear the cost of recycling their customers’ ewaste, or any other governmental intervention in the market in the name of environmental protection. While critics may argue that increased regulation hampers economic activity, it’s certainly evident that regulation does its job in terms of controlling environmental impact. And by increasing the need for R&D and encouraging manufacturers to seek out new markets or improved efficiencies, maybe such regulation can actually have a positive impact on economic activity in the long run.

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Elizabeth Liedel is a joint degree candidate at Duke University, pursuing an MBA at the Fuqua School of Business and a Master of Environmental Management at the Nicholas School for the Environment. She is on the Executive Committee of the Duke Microfinance Leadership Initiative and is active in...
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