Vakkotaur (vakkotaur) wrote,

On Edison and Progress

I've just read an article going around where Thomas Edison's great-grandson claims Thomas would have loved the law forcing a change in lighting by eliminating the current style of 100 Watt incandescent bulb. He says that this is due to Thomas having been for progress and improvement.

Not so fast. While I like CFL and really like LED (or hope to when it gets even better) I realize these are my choices. They are not everyone's choices. Some have issues with CFL and/or LED. They both do, currently, have some problems. So do incandescents. It's a matter of choosing which problems one wishes to deal with.

Now, when the incandescent bulb was invented, it had some significant problems. Short life. No standards for fixtures. No infrastructure - Edison had to design and build a power grid and all the fiddly pieces of it. And while he got some parts wrong (DC, anyone?) the end result is with us. But even he didn't use the new lights. That's right, Edison's own lab was lit by gas well after the light bulb had been invented.

Take a look around and you'll see plenty of electric lighting, whether incandescent, fluorescent, LED, or some else still - clearly, the electric light won over gas (and kerosene, and candles, and...) for illumination. And I do not know of any law that keeps me from turning off all the electric lights in my house and lighting it by some other means.[1] So if the law didn't cause change, what did? Superiority. That is, superiority as seen by the customer. No flames. No gas to build up if a flame is blown out. No oil to spill and make a mess or fire. No fiddling around with matches. No trimming candle wicks. Just flip a switch.

To get rid of incandescent lighting no law is needed. What is needed is a light source seen as superior by the person who is to use it. Anything else is interference and bound to end in failure one way or another. It is not beyond the realm of possibility for people with the right engineering talent to even produce their own bulbs - one doesn't even need a vacuum pump, but just inert gas and some glass-blowing skill. Smuggling bulbs could also happen. As could theft and re-sale. Hello black market. Prohibition didn't work with alcohol, doesn't work with drugs, doesn't work with firearms, and somehow it will magically work with light bulbs? Tell me another one.

I do not believe that the incandescent bulb will completely disappear, at least not for some time. What would be used in an oven, for example? While I think the mercury fear-mongering over CFL is just that, fear-mongering, I don't want any mercury containing device in my oven. Also the oven would be too hot for the electronics for CFL and LED power supplies, as well as the LEDs themselves. I do, however, expect something (right now, I'd guess LED, but something better might come along) to eventually replace most incandescent lighting.

That will happen when a few things happen, and not all have happened yet:

* LED light output can be truly equal to common incandescent ratings - up to at least 100W.

* LED light can be had at color temperatures (and ranges!) people are used to.

* LED bulb supplies run cooler - so can be used in enclosed fixtures.

* LED pricing drops, similar to how CFL pricing has.

All these need to happen. If a person can't tell the difference between an LED and incandescent bulb, can use the LED in the current fixtures, and doesn't see the price as being far greater than any power savings, THEN the LED wins, and deservedly so. A law mandating a change indicates a failure to make a product so much better than people switch to it willingly.

Maybe one day incandescent bulbs will be seen as quaint relics, much like cylinder phonograph records. That day is not here yet. Want everyone to switch? Don't pass a law; build a better bulb.

[1] I've been in a house/cabin built in the 1980s where the builder-owner kept things relatively off-grid. Lighting was by gas, or at least gas was an option for lighting. I recall there were some electrical devices, but think they ran on 12 Volt DC.

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