As Andrew Leonard writes in his “How the World Works” blog, this all began with a column by …
Toronto Star energy reporter Tyler Hamilton that itself had summarized the conclusions of a study raising questions about whether it always makes sense to replace incandescent light bulbs with CFLs. The nub of the argument was that in some cases the heat generated by the incandescent light bulbs could be useful.
Tyler is a friend of mine and a great reporter, so I sent him an email explaining why this is not true, which was not written for publication. Then Leonard himself summarized the column on his blog. So, as Leonard explains:
This excited a storm of comment, and even inspired Joseph Romm, author of “Hell and High Water: Global Warming — The Solution and the Politics,” energy expert, blogger extraordinaire, and regular Salon contributor, to pass on a copy of an e-mail he sent directly to Hamilton.
[That Leonard comment is, I believe, the blogging equivalent of make-up sex. Note to parents: that link is PG-13 — but I digress.]
Anyway, here is my email:
From either an energy or a CO2 perspective, incandescents are a big loser. If you really like electric resistance heat, buy the best portable forced air heater — it’s is still infinitely better than using an incandescent for heat from a CO2 perspective. It doesn’t really matter what the source of your electricity is, since energy around Canada and North America is fungible (and we don’t yet have an oversupply of zero carbon electricity).
But again if you really prefer heating your house with electricity because you have zero-carbon electricity, then buy an electric heat pump — if you have one, then dump your incandescent, the heat pump is much more efficient. For a new home or gut rehab, get a geothermal heating and cooling system. Plus better insulation of course.
This is especially true if you do any significant amount of air-conditioning during the year — which certainly most commercial office buildings do in Canada — and I’m guessing many people run air-conditioning in your homes in Toronto during the summer (certainly that will become more common thanks to global warming).
I can assure you that if you were to do the life-cycle analysis in detail, you’d find that keeping incandescents for the heat value is an energy/climate loser.
Leonard also notes,
A similar argument was made in a prominent letter to the editor published in the Star on Saturday.
(Incidentally, a very nice life-cycle analysis comparing incandescents to compact fluorescents can be found here. The answer: CFLs win.)
The bottom line: As traditional incandescents get phased out and replaced by CFLs, LED bulbs, and more efficient incandescents, don’t get all hot and bothered. They had their moment to shine.