I don’t know whether to laugh or cry here: WalMart is about to make a big push to sell 100,000,000 compact fluorescent lamps (bulbs, in common parlance) a year. These are a no-brainer in general: they last ten times as long as incandescents, save three-quarters of the electricity lumen-for-lumen, don’t get hot and cause fires, and only cost about ten bucks (unless your local utility is subsidizing them, as mine is, for $1 each). So far, so good; kudos to WalMart, especially as their suppliers of incandescent lamps seem to be trying to dig their heels in.
However, CFL market penetration has been very slow; only about one household in fifteen uses them. What I can’t understand is how Michael Barbaro can write a zillion column inches about this project and not once mention the most important practical obstacle to CFL adoption: only a few of them, typically hard to find at retail, work with the dimmers that are widely installed and popular. Can it be that no-one at WalMart has figured out that stocking dimmable CFLs, and making it known that they do, is an essential piece of this puzzle? Hasn’t Barbaro been frustrated trying to green up his own house by this problem?
Since I mention it, here’s a merchant among others: google “dimmable cfl” for more.
UPDATE: Nathan Newman has a post on the original story, with a zillion comments, one of which notes that putting cfls in fixtures in rental units that people don’t expect to stay in for ten years is a complicated question for landlords and tenants both. Andy Sabl writes to RBC to suggest that there may not be all that many dimmers installed (in portable or permanent lighting) and perhaps the market is just not there for them. I don’t know; I put dimmers everywhere I could before cfls came out but have now put back some switches so I could use cfls, and made rather complicated modifications so I could use dimmable cfls with multi-location dimmers. I realize most people don’t get inside their walls and wiring as willingly as I do, so I shouldn’t project here.
But the general question, why aren’t more cfls being used, is part of a very interesting and consistent pattern of consumers underadopting energy-efficient technology (high-EER air conditioners, for example) even when the choice puts money in their pocket, sometimes a lot, over time, and even when it’s as easy is picking item A rather than B off a shelf, never mind spending a Saturday weatherstripping windows. It’s not just poor people with very high discount rates or capital market failure, it’s most of us, and it’s puzzling. In the circles I move in, I would have expected social pressure to make people a little embarrassed to have a bunch of incandescent bulbs blazing away just as it’s moved a lot of my friends and associates into smaller cars, and some into hybrids that actually cost them net money; indeed I would have expected overinvestment in these devices (there’s no reason to put a cfl into the bare bulb socket in the attic where it will only operate a few hours a year).
If I don’t stop, I’m headed for a Jeremiad about most people’s deplorable ignorance of the very basic science of their everyday lives, which I will spare you.