Josh McKenna

As lighting technology has evolved, not every new product introduction has had equal staying power. For example, incandescent lamp technology existed for well over 100 years before it was seriously challenged by the paradigm-changing LED. And some lighting technologies are more interesting for the bridge they provide between major developments. One example of this is the compact fluorescent (CFL) lamp.

From a design standpoint, consumers have never been enamored with CFL’s harsh color temperature or lack of beam control and dimming capability. Furthermore, their mercury content is cause for environmental concern, a concern that is often viewed as bigger than any energy savings the source might offer.

The first spiral CFL was developed in 1976 by Edward E. Hammer, an engineer with General Electric in response to the 1973 energy crisis. The lamp was made by coiling a slender, 13mm-diameter, T4 glass tube. Existing lamp machinery could not consistently reproduce the delicate spiral, unfortunately, and GE decided the investment needed to retool factories was too great, so the lamp was not brought to market.

Later, in the 1980s, lamp manufacturers began to introduce CFLs that could be used with medium screw-based sockets as an alternative to the incandescent lamp. In 1980, Philips introduced its SL lamp, the first self-ballasted (magnetic) screw-in CFL which featured a double-folded T4 tube and color-stable phosphors. This was followed by Osram’s introduction, in 1985, of the Delux EL lamp, the first CFL to use an electronic ballast.

Wary of repeating the mistakes of the CFL introduction—premature to market, too expensive compared to the incumbent technology, and installation and performance issues—the lighting industry has been particularly strategic with the market introduction of LEDs. The U.S. Department of Energy even went so far as to issue a report in June 2006, Compact Fluorescent Lighting in America: Lessons Learned on the Way to Market, as a way to safe guard the introduction of solid-state lighting and ensure it would not become another bridge technology.

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