Lights on the traffic

In some countries, drivers must switch their lights on whenever their car is moving. How does the extra power required by that policy compare with the power already being used to trundle the car around? Let's say the car has four incandescent lights totalling 100 W. The electricity for those bulbs is supplied by a 25%-efficient engine powering a 55%-efficient generator, so the power required is 730 W. For comparison, a typical car going at an average speed of 50km/h and consuming one litre per 12 km

Device Power Time per day Energy per day per home

10 incandescent lights 1 kW 5 h 5 kWh

10 low-energy lights 0.1 kW 5 h 0.5 kWh

Table 9.2. Electric consumption for domestic lighting. A plausible total is 5.5 kWh per home per day; and a similar figure at work; perhaps 4 kWh per day per person.

has an average power consumption of 42 000 W. So having the lights on while driving requires 2% extra power.

What about the future's electric cars? The power consumption of a typical electric car is about 5000 W. So popping on an extra 100 W would increase its consumption by 2%. Power consumption would be smaller if we switched all car lights to light-emitting diodes, but if we pay any more attention to this topic, we will be coming down with a severe case of every-little-helps-ism.

The economics of low-energy bulbs

Generally I avoid discussing economics, but I'd like to make an exception for lightbulbs. Osram's 20 W low-energy bulb claims the same light output as a 100 W incandescent bulb. Moreover, its lifetime is said to be 15 000 hours (or "12 years," at 3 hours per day). In contrast a typical incandescent bulb might last 1000 hours. So during a 12-year period, you have this choice (figure 9.3): buy 15 incandescent bulbs and 1500 kWh of electricity (which costs roughly £150); or buy one low-energy bulb and 300 kWh of electricity (which costs roughly £30).

Should I wait until the old bulb dies before replacing it?

It feels like a waste, doesn't it? Someone put resources into making the old incandescent lightbulb; shouldn't we cash in that original investment by using the bulb until it's worn out? But the economic answer is clear: continuing to use an old lightbulb is throwing good money after bad. If you can find a satisfactory low-energy replacement, replace the old bulb now.

What about the mercury in compact fluorescent lights? Are LED bulbs better than fluorescents?

Researchers say that LED (light-emitting diode) bulbs will soon be even more energy-efficient than compact fluorescent lights. The efficiency of a light is measured in lumens per watt. I checked the numbers on my latest purchases: the Philips Genie 11W compact fluorescent bulb (figure 9.4) has a brightness of 600 lumens, which is an efficiency of 55 lumens per watt; regular incandescent bulbs deliver 10 lumens per watt; the Omicron 1.3 W lamp, which has 20 white LEDs hiding inside it, has a brightness of 46 lumens, which is an efficiency of 35 lumens per watt. So this LED bulb is almost as efficient as the fluorescent bulb. The LED industry still has a little catching up to do. In its favour, the LED bulb has a life of 50 000 hours, eight times the life of the fluorescent bulb. As I write, I see that is selling LEDs with a power of 100 lumens per watt. It's projected that in the future, white LEDs will have an efficiency of over 150lumens per watt [ynjzej]. I expect that within another couple of years, the best advice, from the point of view of both energy efficiency and avoiding mercury pollution, will be to use LED bulbs.

£170 £160 £150 £140 £130 £120 £110 £100 £90 £80 £70 £60 £50 £40 £30 £20 £10



Figure 9.3. Total cumulative cost of using a traditional incandescent 100 W bulb for 3 hours per day, compared with replacing it now with an Osram Dulux Longlife Energy Saver (pictured). Assumptions: electricity costs 10p per kWh; replacement traditional bulbs cost 45p each; energy-saving bulbs cost £9. (I know you can find them cheaper than this, but this graph shows that even at £9, they're much more economical.)

Figure 9.4. Philips 11W alongside Omicron 1.3 W LED bulb.

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