The End of the Lightbulb?

Yesterday, I was half-watching the video podcast of the CBS Evening News and heard something that got my attention: the US Department of Energy will impose new efficiency standards that will effectively “ban” the incandescent lightbulb by 2014.

The old fashioned incandescent lightbulb uses an electrical current to heat a tungsten filament, causing it to glow and emit light. The technology is not very efficient, because only about 5% of the energy is expressed as light (whereas the other 95% is wasted in the form of heat).

So sure, it makes sense that we should move the country away from this 19th-century technology and save energy and money. The CBS program demoed some new LED and OLED technology that aims to offer a reasonable alternative. One thing that sounded really cool was a concept for transparent OLED film, that would function as a window during the day (allowing real daylight to pass through) and would operate as an artificial light source at night (simulating daylight from the same window panels).

The report mentioned some cities that have begun to replace street lamps with LED bulbs, but neglected to mention the problems northern cities have had with LED traffic signals. In winter months, snow blows into the hood surrounding the traffic signal. A traditional incandescent light would melt the snow, but a cold LED light allows the snow to accumulate to the degree that the red, green, or yellow light is obscured.

I happened to be watching this broadcast in my studio, while I was taking some stock photos with my Elinchrom monolights. Like most studio strobes, my Elinchrom lights each have two bulbs: one a flash tube and the other an incandescent modeling light. I haven’t researched the particulars of the new energy policy, but I wondered: would it ban the modeling bulbs that I use in my photographic equipment? And what about all the photographers and videographers who work with “hot lights”?

Photographers have run into similar problems in the past. When new laws restricted the use of mercury in batteries, some camera owners found that they couldn’t get replacement button cells for their light meters. Various darkroom chemicals have met the same fate. And lately I’ve had a hard time finding polonium antistatic brushes to clean my negatives and my scanner. (Polonium got a lot of negative publicity a few years ago when it was used as a poison in an apparent assassination.)


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June 2010
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