At some level all of this incandescent light bulb ban stuff is a bit ludicrous. If you look at the light bulb as an historian of technology, you probably think pretty quickly about the switch from whale oil to kerosene as a lighting fuel source in the mid-19th century. In that case the switch happened because the discovery of oil in Pennsylvania created a more ready supply of kerosene, combined with the fact that kerosene gave a cleaner, brighter light with less smell (plus the price of whale oil had been rising dramatically, as whale hunting depleted the whale population). But here’s the problem: although it was obviously a superior lighting fuel source choice, kerosene didn’t eliminate whale oil from the market very quickly, because you couldn’t use kerosene in whale oil lamps, and you couldn’t retrofit whale oil lamps to take kerosene. Someone had to invent a kerosene lamp. And once invented, all of those old whale oil lamps had to be replaced. The two technologies were complements, and mass proliferation of one required mass proliferation of the other.
This little history parable gets me to my biggest critique of both the ban proposals, and the commentary I’ve read on the ban proposals: neither one addresses what I see as one of the most important and valuable features that incandescent bulbs have and compact flourescents don’t — dimmability. You can’t use a dimmer switch on a fixture with CFLs, because CFLs won’t dim. In most new construction and renovation, rooms like kitchens and family rooms have can lighting in the ceiling to provide ambient light. In fact, in our condo we had can lighting almost exclusively, and only four lamps and one chandelier otherwise. We had dimmer switches on almost every light. Incidentally, that meant that our incandescent bulbs lasted for the entire 5 years that we lived there, because we never used them at full strength. Similarly, the renovation we’re about to commence involves lots of can lighting in the kitchen and family room. I know the form factor of the CFL has improved in recent years so that it can almost fit in the space of an incandescent, but it hasn’t gotten to the point where you can use it in can lights or chandeliers. Halogens have a little more potential, and LED lights have a lot of potential. But light bulb and lighting fixture designers, and meddling politicians, have to take into account how people actually use goods like these in their real lives.
How does this relate to kerosene and whale oil? There are clearly lighting technologies that are superior to the incandescent (CFLs and LEDs), but if the complementary technology does not exist to enable consumers to use them in ways that meet their needs, they won’t use them. If you ban incandescents and no one has figured out how to make an LED bulb that can go into a can lighting fixture and/or a chandelier and be dimmed, then a black market for develop for incandescently can lights and chandelier bulbs, very much in the same way that a black market has arisen for high-flush toilets from Canada.
Glenn Reynolds posted a link to this Washington Post article on choosing light bulbs, but it does not address the dimmer switch complementarity issue. Neither does the Wikipedia entry on the incandescent light bulb, but it’s an informative entry nonetheless.