[Counterview] Incandescent or CFLs?

Green power is the new thing. We see a lot of advertisements of CFL lamps that save power. This indeed is true.I still wanted to delve deep into the point and see the bigger picture.

Ok, let me not bore you and get to the point.
The cost of a simple 60W incandescent bulb is 10 INR, 1/5th of a $.
The cost of a CFL that provides similar lighting [in lumens] is about 220INR or 4$. And this thing consumes about 15W of power. That amounts to a saving of 4 times. Interesting? .. yeah. Green too.

Scenario 1:

CFL                 Incandescent
Lets take a simple use case of a lighting in a pathway or a restroom at home. The average usage of the lamp is about 30 min a day.

So the power consumed by a 60W lamp in an hr is
60/1000 kwh, so in my case it is 60/1000 X 0.5 = 0.03 kwh/day

Power consumed by a 15W [60W incandecent equivalent brightness] in an hr is
15/1000 kwh, so in my case it is 15/1000 X 0.5 = 0.0075 kwh/day

Power saving = 0.03 – 0.0075 = 0.0225 kwh/day

The average cost of electricity in India is < 5 INR, or less than 10c. Lets assume 4 INR for a domestic electricity connection.

The per day cost of power saving is 0.0225 kwh X 4 = 0.1 INR
Per year that would amount to 365 X 0.1 = 36.5 INR

So for a Return of Investment on the CFL, I need about 6 years.

The CFL makers promise an average life of the CFL is about 2-3 years at 6 hrs a day and let us assume our CFL lasts for 6 years.

Scenario 2:
Now, another scenario of using the CFL at 6 Hrs a day.
(6 X 60/1000) – (6 X 15/1000) = 0.27 kwh/day
per day cost of power saving is 0.27kwh X 4 = 1.08 INR
Per year = 365 X 1.08 = 394.2 INR

In this case, a ROI on the CFL is about 6-8 months. Quite interesting.

The CFL contains a lot of non-environmentally friendly components compared to an incandescent lamp. Both contain gas, but in addition, CFL contains plastic, mercury[vapour, and is deadly], circuit boards, inductors, electronic components etc. Because of the complications in making a CFL and the number of components, the actual carbon footprint of the lamp is way bigger than an incandescent.
All that the incandescent contains is a filament, a lil bit of metal, glass and some inert gas like helium which is non environment destructive.
Every component manufactured goes through a lot of processes, and this needs energy which boils down to carbon emissions. Since CFLs contain more components, it uses up more CO2. I could not find actual numbers for this, but its quite obvious when you open up the CFL. The life of an average CFL is about 6 times of an Incandescent. But heck, you could buy about 20 Incandescent lamps at the cost of one CFL.

The humble Incandescent comes in a low cost recycled paper carton. Whereas CFLs come in plastic laminated, virgin paper, and colored prints all over. This too consumes a bit of non-biodegradable stuff, and takes up CO2 emissions. Maybe minimal but still does, considering the scale in which these two are manufactured.

CFLs are known to generate RF intereference. I dont know the FCC report on this though. CFLs switch at a high frequency, so they contain transformers, Inductors, capacitors which are a recipie for RF interference. Most of the reputed CFL makers use RF filters to minimise harmonics, which otherwise might damage your other household sensitive electronic equipment. I am apprehensive of the local CFL makers though.

We still have not considered the cost of recycling that goes into recycling both the suspects, maybe I need to delve in deeper. Its important to know the actual effect of a product labelled green. There might be a lot of carbon emissions that went into making a ‘green’ product. Many times these are tough to measure, and what is important is to see the big picture of CO2 emissions on a global scale. Its the small things that matter. When you scale it up to billions of earthlings, every small thing snowballs.


There is the advent of LEDs. Though its not mainstream, cost being the limiting factor, its gaining. The life of LEDs are about 10 times better than a CFL and power consumption is 1/4th to 1/10th.
In LEDs, most electrical energy is converted to light and not heat compared to a CFL. So the efficiency factor is higher. Another plus of LED lamps are they are very shock resistant compared to CFL and Incandescent. These really help in mobility applications. Ya also LED’s are dimmable.

Until LEDs become mainstream, the CFLs still rule the world, and the humble incandescent will still exist with its warm white glow. The Aura of an incandescent cannot still be matched by a CFL although there are more LED lamps trying to emulate the incandescent, It hasn’t gained traction yet.
Its a matter of application and hours of usage that govern the application of the lamps.
I hope the above post provides a direction to think on the bigger picture of environmentally sustainable domestic and industrial products application and usage.