Archives for Eco-nerd

Incandescent Lights: What EISA Really Means

Categories: Dear God, Make It Stop!, Eco-nerd, Politics and Local Topics, and Science.

There’s been a lot of press coverage recently of the incandescent lighting provisions of the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007, and it’s largely been of the form “The US Government is banning incandescent light bulbs.”

While this makes for good prime-time newsvertainment, it’s not really true.

The tungsten light bulb was invented in 1905 as a fairly radical improvement on the earlier carbon filament bulbs, which would generally last less than a week before burning out. The humble incandescent light bulb was pretty constantly improved — both in terms of lifetime and efficiency — until about 1964. At that point in time, a bulb that used 100 watts could put out between 1,300 and 1,700 lumens. And that’s where we are now. The most commonly used incandescent bulbs have seen no real improvements in the past 45 years.

Now, let’s look at what EISA actually says about incandescent bulbs. A careful reading shows that it doesn’t eliminate incandescent bulbs. Far from it. All it does is set minimum efficiency standards for them. The relevant information comes from Pub.L. 110-140, Subtitle B, Section 321 (a)(3)(A)(ii)(I)(cc); the important columns from the table are:

Lumens Maximum
1490 – 2600
1050 – 1489
750 – 1049
310 – 749

The four lines in the table correspond roughly to modern 100, 75, 60, and 40 watt bulbs respectively. So, those are certainly aggressive compared to the ’60’s technology that we’re using today. But it’s not a “ban on incandescent bulbs” any more than recent automobile efficiency regulations are a “ban on internal combustion engines.”

In fact, you can already buy, right now in 2009, a number of bulbs that meet these standards. Sure, they’re a bit pricey right now, but so were 13 SEER air conditioners five years ago. When regulations force minimum efficiency standards, economies of scale almost always kick in and drop the prices to be very close to those of the older, less efficient technologies.

On top of this, we’ve seen some extremely promising advances in incandescent technologies, including laser treatment of filaments and coatings that turn waste heat into visible light. Either of these alone would completely blow the EISA standards out of the water, beating them by a margin of more than 30%. And there’s no reason to believe that they can’t be combined with each other for additional efficiencies.

So, before you start writing your eulogies for the humble incandescent bulb, I’d give the industry some time to show us what they can do when given a challenge.

Edit: there are additional EISA provisions that kick in January 1st, 2020; these require an efficiency of 45 lumens per watt or better. This will be more difficult, but the kinds of advances I talk about above are already close to this standard — the laser technique gets you to 35 lumens per watt — so even that isn’t likely to be incandescent’s death knell.

Get ‘Em While They’re Hot

Categories: Eco-nerd, Tech, and Toys.

Tesla Motors is now taking deposits for their ├╝ber-cool Model S sedan, which is planned for production in 2011 — they’ll be sold off in first-come-first-served order. The claims are 0-60 mph in a smooth 5.6 seconds, with seating for 5 adults. And 300 miles on a charge. Base models start at $50,000 — which seems quite the bargain, when you consider that it’s likely to compete with luxury sedans for amenities.

For a mere $5,000 ($4,950 of which can be refunded, at least as long as Tesla remains solvent), you can get your place in line.

A Cheaper Eco-Sport Car

Categories: Eco-nerd and Toys.

It certainly doesn’t approach the allure of the Tesla Roadster, but there’s another set of high-performance, alternate-technology cars in the works as well: a Brazilian company is poised to launch a line of cars under the name “Obvio!” next year.

The low end model, the Obvio! 828, starts at $14,000 for a hybrid version that runs on gas, ethanol, or any mix of the two; it gets mileage of 33 MPG city/44 MPG highway on gasoline (30/40 on ethanol) with a top speed of 100 MPH. It also comes in an electric-only version with a 200 – 240 mile range for $49,000, which increases the top speed to 120 MPH and has a 0-60 of 4.5 seconds. It has a lot of rather eccentric options, including an in-dash general-purpose touchscreen Windows XP computer featuring GSM/GPRS and 802.11 connectivity options. (And you know it’ll be in the US less than one week before somone blogs about their experience putting Linux on it).

The high-end, “microsport” Obvio! 012, which starts at $28,000 for the hybrid, keeps the same mileage as the 828, but raises the top-end speed up to 160 MPH. Specs for the electric-only 012 ($59,000) remain the same as the 828.

Eating Patagonian Toothfish?

Categories: Eco-nerd and Food.

You may or may not be aware that the sudden rise in popularity of the Patagonian toothfish (aka “Chilean Sea Bass”) in the 1990s, combined with their slow rate of maturity, led to the near extinction of that fish. Conservationists called for a complete ban on their consumption until such a time as the species’ viability can be assured.

Today, I was in Whole Foods; they stopped carrying Patagoinian toothfish over 7 years ago in response to the overfishing situation. But today — today, they had it in stock, accompanied by a big “Welcome Back Chilean Sea Bass!” banner. They also had pamphlets explaining that they have found an MSC-certified fishery to source the fish from around South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands.

Full Spectrum CFL Bulbs

Categories: Eco-nerd.

For quite a long time, Jean has been extolling the virtues of full-spectrum fluorescent bulbs. Not only do they have better color rendering than other fluorescents; they also purportedly have psychological effects that help most people feel better overall. Unfortunately, the full-spectrum bulbs that I’ve known about have all been either tubes (which I have only in the kitchen) or highly-specialized lamp bulbs (which are of no use to me).

I have just recently been made aware of the availability of full spectrum compact fluorescent light bulbs. They’re a bit pricy, but probably worth trying out. I’ll have to order a handful of these and see how they work out…

Got a spare $100,000?

Categories: Eco-nerd, Science, and Toys.

Ben brought to my attention a new breed of electic car that Tesla Motors is producing. The vehicles themselves are styled and manufactured by Lotus.

The first car out the gate is the “Tesla Roadster” — a two seater with a trunk that can be described only as “vestigial.” It’s a soft-top convertable with a hard top option. So it’s an electic sports car? Yep. It shouldn’t be too much of a surprise: the Japanese have been outperfoming gas-powered cars using electric prototypes for years. (According to Wired, Tesla Motors has other cars in the works as well).

This car is as different from the electric cars of yesteryear — most of which were glorified golf carts — as is possible. With a 200 kW powertrain (that’s almost 270 horsepower for you luddites), it can go from a standstill to 60 miles per hour in 4 seconds. It has a top speed somewhere north of 130 miles per hour. Under normal driving conditions, it can go 250 miles on a single charge. And while previous electric cars required exotic charging stations, this one has an optional “travel charger” that allows you to plug it into a normal wall outlet. (It does come with an exotic charging station that you install at your house that charges it up more quickly — empty to full in 3 1/2 hours).

And, for Ben’s sake, I’ll point out that the iPod dock comes standard.

At $100,000, I’m not quite putting in my down payment yet — but it’s really promising that someone can make a batch of these (1,000 for the 2007 year model) for a price that’s almost on par with gasoline cars in the same class. At this price, the first batch (limited edition) of 100 sold out — prepaid — within two weeks. They’re taking orders for the second batch right now.