Our view

Americans are using less electricity

January 5, 2014 

  • In summary

    More efficient light bulbs are one of many ways to reduce U.S. energy consumption.

As of Jan. 1, production of 40- and 60-watt light bulbs was banned as part of efficiency standards signed into law by President George W. Bush in 2007. While some will miss the old incandescent bulbs, the move is part of a successful effort to make the nation more energy efficient.

The government phased out 75- and 100-watt incandescent bulbs over the past few years. But the latest ban will have a bigger impact on consumers because 40- and 60-watt bulbs are the most popular on the market.

When the first practical incandescent bulb was devised by Thomas A. Edison, it was a scientific and engineering marvel, cutting edge technology for its time. But by the time its production came to an end last Wednesday, it had become obsolete, an energy hog compared to compact fluorescent bulbs – CFLs – and light emitting diode bulbs – LEDs.

Both of those more efficient bulbs are initially more expensive that an incandescent bulb. But with much longer lifespans, sometimes lasting years, the new bulbs save considerable money over the long run.

The new light bulbs are just part of a growing array of more energy efficient products that have allowed Americans to significantly cut the amount of electricity consumed in homes and businesses. The Energy Information Administration recently announced that in 2013, the average amount of electricity consumed in U.S. homes fell to levels last seen more than a decade ago.

Last year was the third year in a row in which power usage declined. The average annual household energy usage was 10,819 kilowatt-hours, the lowest level since 2001, when households averaged 10,535 kwh, even though Americans now are using many more electronic devices that they were in those days.

In addition to using more energy efficient light bulbs, Americans also have better insulated their homes, in part because of tougher state building codes to force builders to seal homes so heat and air conditioning don’t seep out so fast. Again, while adding insulation and replacing old-fashioned windows with double-paned windows can be costly at first, the effort usually pays off in a few years.

Big appliances such as refrigerators and air conditioners also have become more efficient, thanks in large part to federal energy standards that grow stricter every few years as technology evolves. Even new TVs are far more efficient than the old cathode ray tube sets.

And desk-top computers, once cutting edge, gobble much more energy than a portable tablet or smart phone, which are designed to use battery power sparingly. It costs $1.36 to power an iPad for a year, compared with $28.21 for a desk-top, according to the Electric Power Research Institute.

Some may complain about a “nanny government” that sets insulation standards and takes away our incandescent bulbs. But increasing efficiency remains the most effective way to reduce energy usage.

That not only saves consumers money, it also plays a key strategic role in reducing the nation’s reliance on foreign oil. And more efficient electronic devices also have the benefit of reducing consumption of carbon fuels, consequently reducing damage to the environment.

We can only hope that the trend toward increasing efficiency continues for years to come both through innovation and smarter energy use by consumers. Good riddance to the incandescent bulb.

The Herald is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service