Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Compact Flourescent Bulbs...a blogging effort

Compact Fluorescent Bulbs…a blogging effort


Influential writer Seth Godin posted How many bloggers does it take to screw in a lightbulb? and invited other bloggers to describe their view of compact fluorescent energy-saving bulbs. Why have these bulbs not caught on, Seth wondered aloud? Good question…I offer my thoughts and, not surprisingly, I decided to do it from a Lean perspective.

First, I went to gemba, the actual place where the action happens. On my way home from work, I bought a CF bulb, to experience it for myself. Then, knowing we had extended family coming over for supper, I emailed my wife that we’d have a discussion over dinner about CF bulbs. She was thrilled. When I got home, I then installed the bulb in a lamp on my bedroom dresser, where a conventional incandescent bulb had just burnt out.

What did I learn?

First, the bulb is expensive. I paid $4.82 for a single 60W-equivilent bulb. The purchase broke a $10 bill. I probably could have had 8 regular bulbs for the same price at the same store.

Second, the package labeling was intimidating. There was much fine print on the back, with dire warnings about mercury contamination. It made the bulb seem complicated.

Third, each of our dinner guests had opinions about the bulb…many of them negative. Chief amongst them was the cost, the lack of quick recognized savings and the harsh hue from a fluorescent bulb. As Don put it, “I spend all day at work under fluorescent bulbs…I don’t want to come home and to more of the same!”

Mercifully, the conversation then shifted to the grandchildren and whether any more are on the way.

Though others grew tired of talking about CF bulbs, I further examined this myself. I installed the bulb in our bedroom and stood back to look at it. Not as bad a hue as I had feared. In a small light fixture, under a lampshade, it really looked OK.

So why haven’t CF bulbs caught on? My thoughts from my observations today.

The energy savings of CF bulbs are clear. The cost is intimidating. Isn’t this a business opportunity for someone with a Lean design perspective? To set a retail price target of, say, $1.00 for a bulb and then set out to wring waste out of the process to meet that aggressive target?

And what about the consumer? Many enthusiasts feel that we should buy CF bulbs because of the “cause” of energy savings. That won’t carry the day for widespread acceptance. The bulb has to be cheaper. A strong customer focus could help this…probably better design wouldn’t hurt either…the bulb doesn’t look like what we think of when we say “bulb”.

It is a tough sell to take hard cash out of my wallet to buy the bulb and then hope that small decreases in electric bills that don’t go back into my wallet will come, distantly, on some future day.

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8 comments:

Mike said...

Joe, as usual Seth has made up his mind about something and declared his opinion to be gospel. I read his post yesterday and he got into his "I know best" mode pretty quickly and it was then that I decided to keep conserving energy at home the way I always have--by turning the lights off when not needed--rather than buying CF bulbs.

On the other hand, in my home base plant here in Michigan we have recently replaced all our halide lights with CF banks and there is a huge cost savings. This facility will recoup the entire investment in about 3 years. Used in this environment, they illuminate very similar to daylight, with less glare and dark spots than the halide lights. And we made this decision without any encouragement from Seth Godin.

Anonymous said...

I bought two of those light bulbs and they don't fit in any of my sconces!!!

That could certainly affect consumer adoption rates.

Whoops!!!

Karen Wilhelm said...

Husband and home technican Mike replaced the light in our range hood with one of those. It's far superior to an ordinary light bulb for task lighting. Would I want it in a lamp in my living room? No. I like the soft pink bulbs because they have a subtle prettifying effect. (Us more mature women like all the prettifying we can get.)It's all about finding the right tool for the right purpose.

Anonymous said...

Watch the sale ads for Menards. The have the CF bulbs on sale for a very resonable price about once a month. And try the 'daylight' version instead of the soft white. They are much easier on the eyes.

I am an avid fish hobiest (I have 14 tanks running right now). These bulbs are a value when you compare them to the cost of aquarium bulbs. Several hobbiests I know have rewired their tank hoods (myself included) to work with these instead of the flourescent tube type bulbs.

Maybe finding the right market is part of the equation.

-Gary Grissom

Greg Blum said...

Joe:
My lovely wife does not like the CF bulbs in the house because of the momentary delay from switch to illumination. I have, however, been using them in my garage, and this past summer I replaced two CF bulbs that were given to me by my local Cinergy (now Duke) account representative. Those CF bulbs lasted NINE years in my garage. How do I know that? Because I am hopelessly type-A and anal-retentive, and I had written the install date on the ballast with a Sharpie marker. Besides the energy savings, the bulbs have a much longer life than incandescent bulbs. Careful selection on color rendition of the bulbs can eliminate the "harshness" associated with fluorescent lighting.

It seems to me that home users do not see the benefits of reduced energy costs in any sort of dramatic way, simply because so much of the electric bill is generated by other equipment in the home. (furnace, water heater, range, dryer, TV).

Getting past the first cost is the first hurdle. The marketing of these bulbs needs to focus on life-cycle costs. Compare first cost with energy savings plus life of bulb.

GLB

Terry Flanagan said...

Joe:
I enjoyed your story about a informal consumer focus group on CF light bulbs. It is actually a metaphor for the reluctance of employers implementing wellness programs to reduce health and workers comp costs.

Employers are afraid to install wellness programs for all the same reasons.

It appears the decision maker, the buyer, has to decide their new role or change how they behave in the role they have. ROI's provide the metrics to prioritize what to change.

Managers are reactive, retrospective, and risk adverse. Leaders, by the roles they choose, decide how to change will happen.

BTF

Anonymous said...

By my estimate it will cost you $60 to run a 60 bulb for 10,000 hours (@ $.10 per kilowatt hour) and $12 to run an equivalent 12 watt CF bulb. (Remember to multiply your 60 w bulb cost by 5 to get the actual material cost, since they each last about 2000 hours.)

David said...

They haven't caught on in my household because I can see them flicker. At least, I could see the early ones flicker. The current ones may have fixed that problem by running at higher frequencies, but I so disliked the early experience that I'm not about to find out.