Politicians Sorely Misguided on Energy Policies

A black market for incandescents will evolve, complete with bulb-related violence.

Julie Jacobson · April 20, 2009

Politicians are creating some misguided energy-management mandates—and the American people are eating it up.

Let’s look at lighting.

California’s Title 24 mandates lighting controls or occupancy sensors in certain rooms of the house. As we’ve reported in the past, the solutions are so inconvenient that installers and consumers routinely remove the sensors once the inspector leaves the premises.

Worse, the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007 outlaws incandescent lights by 2012. Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs) will save the planet, our illustrious politicians proclaim.

But today’s CFLs, as most of us know, have many shortcomings:

  • They make us look ugly.
  • They’re difficult to trash because of their mercury content.
  • They interfere with IR remote controls.
  • They don’t dim well.
  • They consume as much energy even as they begin to lose light output (aka light lumen depreciation).

Plus, “They take too long to turn on, so we tend to keep them on all the time,” says Dr. Ian Rowbottom, energy guru at Lutron Electronics.

I predict that incandescent bulb manufacturers will ramp up production before 2012, and entrepreneurs will hoard them. A black market will evolve, complete with bulb-related violence, as in the days of prohibition. It could get ugly.

We didn’t need the government to create the green craze. Private citizens, like Al Gore, created the environmental urgency all by themselves, and the public is responding without mandates from Washington.

Why else would so many private citizens purchase the overpriced Toyota Prius, even though the vehicle probably will never pay for itself in gas savings? Why else would individual homeowners opt for solar power, even if the payback is 10 to 20 years if ever?

If only it were as hip to save energy by, say, replacing light switches with dimmers.

According to Rowbottom, it costs about $7.75 to generate one watt of electricity from solar power. It costs a mere 35 cents to conserve one watt with a single dimmer, assuming users routinely dim by 15 percent. This type of negative energy consumption is known as negawattage.

Lutron crunched the numbers and determined that—compared to negawatt dimming—the cost per watt is four times more for coal and wind power, eight times more for nuclear power and 22 times more for solar. So Lutron may be self-interested, but even if you cut the numbers in half …

Rowbottom calculates that, if every switch in every home in the U.S. were replaced with a dimmer, the negawatt savings would be 421 billion kilowatt hours per year, or the equivalent of 52 large coal-fired power plants.

Alas, that argument is far too simple and politically boring for our elected officials. We won’t reelect the green administration for encouraging the use of dimmers. But we would embrace the green team for much costlier energy policies.

I’m all for long-term energy planning, but let’s start with the obvious—ignoring, of course, the fact that dimmers don’t generate votes.

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  About the Author

Julie Jacobson, recipient of the 2014 CEA TechHome Leadership Award, is co-founder of EH Publishing, producer of CE Pro, Electronic House, Commercial Integrator, Security Sales and other leading technology publications. She currently spends most of her time writing for CE Pro in the areas of home automation, security, networked A/V and the business of home systems integration. Julie majored in Economics at the University of Michigan, spent a year abroad at Cambridge University, earned an MBA from the University of Texas at Austin, and has never taken a journalism class in her life. She's a washed-up Ultimate Frisbee player currently residing in Carlsbad, Calif. Email Julie at

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