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Santa Rosa researchers leading effort to meet energy efficiency standards by 2012

  • The filament of a standard incandescent, left, and that of a bulb using technology from Deposition Sciences in Santa Rosa, Calif., in June 2009. When Congress passed a new energy law two years ago, obituaries were written for the incandescent light bulb. But as it turns out, the obituaries were premature. Researchers across the country have been racing to breathe new life into Thomas Edison's light bulb, a pursuit that accelerated with the new legislation. Amid that footrace, researchers are promising a wave of innovative products over the next few years. (Jim Wilson/The New York Times)

When Congress passed a new energy law two years ago, obituaries were written for the incandescent light bulb.

The law set tough efficiency standards, due to take effect in 2012, that no traditional incandescent bulb on the market could meet, and a century-old technology that helped create the modern world seemed to be doomed.

But as it turns out, the obituaries were premature.

Researchers across the country, including in Santa Rosa, have been racing to breathe new life into Thomas Edison's light bulb, a pursuit that accelerated with the new legislation. Amid that footrace, one company is already marketing limited quantities of incandescent bulbs that meet the 2012 standard, and researchers are promising a wave of innovative products over the next few years.

Indeed, the incandescent bulb is turning into a case study of the way government mandates can spur innovation.

"There's a massive misperception that incandescents are going away quickly," said Chris Calwell, a researcher with Ecos Consulting who studies the bulb market. "There have been more incandescent innovations in the last three years than in the last two decades."

The first bulbs to emerge from this push, Philips Lighting's Halogena Energy Savers, are expensive compared with older incandescents. They sell for $5 apiece and more, compared with as little as 25 cents for standard bulbs.

But they are also 30 percent more efficient than older bulbs.

Philips claims that a 70-watt Halogena Energy Saver gives off the same amount of light as a traditional 100-watt bulb and lasts about three times longer, eventually paying for itself.

The line, for now sold exclusively at Home Depot and on Amazon.com, is not as efficient as compact fluorescent light bulbs, which can use 75 percent less energy than old-style bulbs. But the Energy Saver line is finding favor with ecologically conscious consumers who dislike the light from fluorescent bulbs or are bothered by such factors as their slow startup time and mercury content.


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