On April 21, 2007, The Illuminating Engineering Society's New York chapter held the first in its series of four panel discussions regarding the incandescent/compact fluorescent lamp debate. Representatives from the three major lamp manufacturers—General Electric (GE), Osram Sylvania, and Philips—were on hand to help clarify what one presenter called “a lot of confusion and misinformation” about incandescent sources and the recent flurry of legislation aimed at phasing it out the incandescent lamp in favor of more energy-efficient alternatives.

Susan Isenhour-Anderson, energy relations manager at Osram Sylvania, began the evening with a comprehensive overview of existing and pending legislation both in the United States and abroad. She pointed out that Australia's recently passed law, which received a great deal of press when it was passed, does not call for an outright ban on incandescent lamps; rather, it sets performance standards. Isenhour-Anderson went on to outline the various bills working their way through U.S. legislative circles: a bill in California, for example, initially called for banning incandescent sources, but now seeks to set performance standards, while the state of Minnesota has proposed levying a 25-cent tax on incandescent lamps. (Isenhour-Anderson's summary of state legislation is available on Osram Sylvania's website: http://tinyurl.com/3cum9m). As to where the company stands on the issue, Isenhour-Anderson stressed that Osram Sylvania supports the National Electrical Manufacturers Association's (NEMA) call for a federal standard, which would preempt state laws. “As manufacturers, we can't deal with fifty-one different laws, and that's where we're headed,” she stated.

Mary Beth Gotti, manager at GE Consumer & Industrial's Lighting Institute in Cleveland, Ohio, began her presentation with a brief history of the incandescent bulb lamp and framed the topic of energy efficiency in terms of technology. “People love the quality of incandescent,” she said, and the question for GE is “how can we drive this technology to its limits?” GE's response to the possible bans will be the introduction of a high-efficiency incandescent lamp. “We can't talk about the technology at this point,” she said, but it will provide the performance of an incandescent with a 30 percent increase in energy efficiency over standard incandescent lamps by 2010 and 60 percent improvement by 2012. For this reason, she hopes that any legislation would be performance- rather than technology-based. “You have to give engineers and scientists a chance to see what they can do with technology,” she said. A sentiment, which echoed remarks made by James P. Campbell, president & CEO of GE Consumer & Industrial at the GE Edison Award presentation on May 7, 2007, during Lightfair.

Philips has taken a fairly significant public stand on the issue. (See “Philips Leads Lighting Efficiency Coalition,” page 22, April/May 2007). William Middlebrook, technical support representative at Philips, responded to criticism of Philips' announcement in December 2006 that it would phase-out incandescent light bulbs by 2016. “I feel like Custer riding into Little Bighorn right now,” he said as he began. Mr. Middlebrook stressed: “We never used the term ban; we will not use the term ban. We want to phase out inefficient light sources.” He pointed out that Philips' initiative addresses an existing environmental crisis, not an imminent one. “The facts are that we have power outages,” he said. “We have the problem now. It's not going to be a couple of years from now.” Similar initiatives to phase out incandescent sources also exist for the commercial market, said Mr. Middlebrook, but for the moment “all we're doing is looking at the residential side of the business.”

A lively and at times heated question-and-answer session followed. One audience member raised questions about mercury levels in compact fluorescent lamps, citing news reports of a consumer who spent $2,000 hiring a hazmat team to clean up a broken compact fluorescent lamp. Isenhour-Anderson said that inexpensive disposal guidelines are available on the EPA's website. If an outright ban of incandescent lamps were to be put into effect, the manufacturers' representatives said they had two major concerns: meeting production demands and providing adequate recycling options for consumers.

David Singer of Brooklyn-based Arc Light Design moderated the event, concluding, “We're all interested in reducing energy, but maintaining the quality and the effect of the lighting.” The next discussions in the series will be on July 19 (“The Effect on Design and Sustainability”); August 16 (“Light and Health”); and September 17 (a recap of the previous events coupled with a designer's workshop). All events will be held at the Center for Architecture in New York City; details at www.iesny.org.

Michael Hsu is a writer based in Brooklyn, New York.