December 19, 2011

Let there be incandescents

Congress has graciously delayed the banning of the 100 watt incandescent bulb (okay, not really "banned," just rendered illegal using the old "efficiency" slight of hand that turned CAFE standards into a gas-wasting exercise in rent-seeking) a whole six months.

When it comes to consumer sovereignty, I'm a full-blooded libertarian. Governments only make things worse trying to control consumer preferences. In this case, it's even a matter of principle. I only use two incandescents: the reading light next to my computer and one ganged with a CFL that runs off the motion sensor in the kitchen (it require a low impedance load).

Though in the spirit of full disclosure, I should also point out that my apartment has electric baseboard heat and an electric water heater, which makes my light bulb choices utterly inconsequential in terms of power savings.

Let's consider the incandescent the government didn't have to regulate out of existence: the television tube. A television tube is a big vacuum tube, and the filament is basically a low voltage incandescent bulb. Vacuum tubes operate according to the "Edison Effect," observed by the inventor of the light bulb (it took another twenty years for Fleming and De Forest to put it to practical use).

To be sure, a vacuum tube only draws as much power as a Christmas tree light, though it pumps out a fair amount of heat. An old-fashioned television tube could severely burn you at one end and electrocute you at the other (the anode is charged to 25,000 volts). All-tube televisions and radios sported hefty transformers and sucked down a fair amount of current. You could heat a room with one.

Junction diodes and transistors replaced vacuum tubes, and were replaced by integrated circuits. The cathode ray tube was the last to go, but has been supplanted by plasma and LCD screens. I noticed a few years ago that tube televisions had disappeared from the shelves of the local Walmart, a good indication that a technology has saturated every economic stratum of the consumer market.

None of these steps had to be "mandated" by law. They occurred when they made technological, economic, and aesthetic sense to both consumers and manufacturers.

Related posts

Lights out
Old wine, new bottles
The last picture tube show
Speaking truth to (gasoline) power

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