My Clean Break column today takes a look at the wisdom of completely banning incandescent light bulbs to promote the use of compact fluorescent lights and LEDs, particularly in the kind of colder climates we see in Canada and northern parts of the United States. Nobody disputes the superior efficiency of CFLs and LEDs, but what we often forget is that the heat lost from older incandescent bulbs actually contributes to the heating requirements of homes during the winter. The question then becomes: Are we releasing more greenhouse gas emissions by using more fossil-fuelled heating to make up for the heat that we’re not getting from CFLs and LEDs? The answer, as you’ll read, isn’t so clear cut. If you’re in a state or province that relies heavily on fossil fuels for electricity generation, then it may make more sense to use more efficient lighting year round. But if you’re in a state or province that uses more emission-free hydroelectric power and nuclear power, then it might make sense to keep on using that Edison-style bulb during the winter.
It may be that in certain regions of North America we need to treat lighting like we treat car tires. Just as we switch to snow tires during the winter, we might want to consider switching to incandescent bulbs in the winter and back to CFLs or LEDs during the warmer months when we don’t want the heat loss from old bulbs contributing to our air conditioning needs.
Based on this perspective, it might be wise to question whether an all-out ban on Edison-style bulbs makes sense.