Incandescent, CFL, & LED bulbs: Pros & Cons

OK.  I’ve just heard of a new federal mandate that would effectively prohibit the sale of the incandescent light bulb, long a staple of many households.  I’m all for finding a way to fulfill my current lighting requirements with less energy consumption but I’d rather take a logical approach to the problem than follow a mandate that does not take such an analysis into consideration.  Setting aside the fact that this represents yet another intrusion of government into the internal affairs of the individual, a pro-con analysis needs to be done.  Let’s start with the pros and cons of the incandescent bulb:

The pros:

They’re cheap and their efficiency increases with higher wattage consumption.

The cons:

These wattage consumptions are more than many of us are comfortable with given the increasing energy costs.

Which brings me to the CFL bulb:

The pros:

They’re much more efficient than incandescents and they’ve come to be nearly as cheap as incandescents.

The cons:

They contain unsafe levels of mercury.  This results in some hidden costs besides the obvious risk to the environment and our health should the mercury contained in these bulbs leak into the environment.  Because of this if you break a CFL bulb you can’t just sweep up the debris and toss it.  You have to call in an environmental cleaning crew (who will be wearing HAZMAT suits) and that will likely cost a good couple of thousand bucks.  The waste management services of most localities also implement special procedures for dealing with CFL bulb waste, procedures that cost money to implement.  This results in a higher local property tax bill for everyone.

Which brings me now to the LED bulb:

The pros:

They’re much more efficient, more efficient than even CFL’s (at least at lower wattage equivalencies such as the 60-watt equivalency).  They also contain no mercury, eliminating that risk to our health and the environment.  They also last much longer than either incandescents or CFL’s.

The cons:

They cost plenty to buy.  The average LED bulb costs roughly $40 – $50 for a 60-watt equivalent LED bulb.  Their efficiency also drops with higher wattage consumption.  For example: LED’s are more efficient than CFL’s at the 60-watt equivalency but at the 100-watt equivalency, from what I read, an LED bulb would have to consume at least 30 watts of power, giving the CFL the advantage in energy efficiency in this higher wattage equivalency (CFL can produce 100-watt equivalent light consuming only 26 watts of power).  Also a 100-watt equiv. LED would be roughly several times the size of a standard bulb and probably cost roughly $100 – $200!  (eek!)  But it would still make the LED much more efficient than incandescent bulbs.

But despite the cons, if you can afford these initial one-time costs for the LED bulbs, the energy cost savings could possibly offset the cost of the bulbs.  The tricky part is actually coming up with the money for these LED bulbs, especially in this tough economy (unless of course Bill Gates is feeling generous enough to replace every light fixture in the US with an LED bulb, but I’m not holding my breath  :-P).

The Future of Energy Production?

You’ve seen me cover a potential solution for an alternative fuel in the form of algae, perhaps one of our most plentiful natural resources.  Now I’m going to cover alternatives in the area of power production.

Electrical power is necessary.  It powers a great many of our appliances.  There’s only one problem: right now our power is produced by power plants that throw out a bunch of pollutants into our atmosphere.  Could there be an economically viable free-market solution to cheap energy that is environmentally friendly?  Let’s explore some of these options.

By far the option for which I hold a great deal of skepticism is one I came across on the internet.  It involves building a device capable of harnessing supposedly free electrical energy.  It involves the theories of Nikola Tesla, an undisputed genius in the field of harnessing electrical energy.  The world of AC power was built using many of Tesla’s patents.  The theory is that there is a great wealth of electrical energy trapped in the ionosphere and the proposed device would harness it.  More information on this device can be found here:

Some of the less far-fetched ideas include such things as solar, wind, geothermal and hydropower.  Solar and wind power pose 2 problems.  The primary problem is that both methods of power generation rely on a near constant supply of favorable weather conditions, a rather large statistical impossibility.  The second problem is that wind turbines and solar panels cost a mint to manufacture and install.  If anybody who reads this blog knows of less costly ways that solar and wind power can be harnessed, please be my guest and by all means leave a comment or perhaps a link to your blog where you may have addressed it.

Geothermal power generation also poses certain dangers that give me serious doubts as to whether or not the benefit outweighs the risk.  One wrong move tapping into a geothermal vent and you could have an environmental disaster on your hands rivaling Chernobyl.

Hydropower is by far our most viable option at the moment I think.  Hydropower involves using the force of moving water to rotate a large turbine.  the rotation of the turbine produces mechanical energy that can then be converted into electrical power.

But perhaps another method can be devised that would be on par with hydropower.  Because hydropower has one drawback.  In desert areas that are nowhere near any bodies of water, those areas would not be able to make use of any of it.  This method carries the misnomer of “perpetual motion machine,”  a thought that is the fanciful product of pseudoscience.  But i think it might be possible to have a turbine similar to the kind used in hydropower plants.  But instead of the force of moving water being applied to the turbine, the turbine is instead made to rotate by the application of magnetic force.  Magneto-power anyone?

So what do you think?  Is there anything to that Tesla device or should we stick with what we know works?  Or could magnetopower be the wave of the future, especially for dry areas that don’t have enough water to make use of hydropower?  Although it would be the height of irony if the answer to our energy crisis did originate with a man who lived over 100 years ago.

Algae: Our Possible Future As An Alternative Fuel Source? You Decide!

In a previous blog I wrote about how us conservatives always seem to get a bad rep in, besides issues regarding the needy (which I’ve addressed in numerous other blogs), that we also have  a bad rep on issues regarding “going green.”

It’s not that I wouldn’t like to see us move to more environmentally friendly sources of fuel and energy, it’s that the ideas liberals have proposed thus far for doing so oftentimes involve much more government control over our private lives than the Founding Fathers intended.  This in turn creates an environment where “going green” costs lots of….well….green (pardon the pun).  I mean, have you seen the price of organic items?  To shop organic you’d have to be part of the “rich and famous” crowd.  For example an alternative to artificial sweeteners like splenda is in the organic section of Wegman’s called xylitol, a sugar alcohol that, unlike sugar, metabolizes independently of insulin, causing very little, if any rise in blood glucose levels.  A lot of sugar-free chocolates use a sugar alcohol like xylitol as the sweetener.  They also have  a rather unfortunate side-effect when consumed in excess quantities.  Let’s just say that if you plan to consume a sugar alcohol in excess quantities you’d better have plenty of Immodium handy.  Anyhow, the bags of xylitol in the organic food section at Wegman’s were $8 – $9 apiece.  Yikes!  I think I’ll stick with Splenda thank you very much.  Or at the very least Truvia, an all natural sweetener that is a blend of stevia and erythritol, another sugar alcohol commonly found in grapes.

Anyhow, back to alternative fuel.

One example of a liberal idea that would not be viable is that they’ve bandied about the idea of using corn and other land-based crops as an ethanol source.  This is problematic because a lot of these crops are also used as food sources.  And there’s already a high enough demand on crop farmers such as corn farmers to produce enough to be used as food.  To add on demand for use of corn as an ethanol source would quickly become more than most corn farmers could produce.  Another problem arises when you consider the amount of time it takes to grow most land-based crops.  So not only would total aggregate demand outpace supply in this area, but producing the supply of corn itself (and other land crops) is a very time-intensive process.

Another problematic idea was the idea to use water as fuel for cars.  I think everybody knows that water would be of no use in a combustion engine, as water does not burn.  About the only way it could be used is to redesign a car engine to work not as a combustion engine but as an engine that would break apart the water molecules and use the hydrogen as fuel and expel the oxygen out the exhaust pipe.  And that’s problematic because the Engine would already have to have a certain amount of energy available to it to initialize that process, as any student of chemistry knows that it requires an investment of energy to break a molecular bond.

But what most people have overlooked is the possibility of using algae as an alternative fuel source, one that has the potential to compete with crude oil.  For one thing there’s currently not a very high demand for using algae as a source of food.  About the only people that use it for food are those of Asian decent, otherwise there tends to be very little demand for algae as a food product.  I once tried a seaweed cracker and found that the taste left something to be desired.  So you could grow crops of algae and use nearly the whole crop for the purposes of fuel production.

Algae can produce a lot of oil.  Many estimates put algae as having a good 60% of its weight in oil and potential oil yields of roughly 26,000 gallons per hectare of algae, give or take a few hundred.  That sounds like a pretty decent yield to me.  Thus many estimates that I’ve come across state that we wouldn’t need much more than 15,000 square miles total in algae crops to fulfill our needs in the area of oil production.

Algae is also nature’s multi-purpose tool.  The leftover plant matter from extracting the oil could be used to make organic animal feed, which would in turn free up some more of the corn supply since right now corn is the popular thing to use to make animal feed.  It could also be used to make those biomass charcoal briquette substitutes that I see all the time at Wegman’s in their organic section.  The leftovers could also be fermented to produce an alcohol that could be used as a fuel, like ethanol.  Though I think fermenting it into propanol or butanol would make better sense because ethanol is also used as a drinking alcohol.  So if you used ethanol as a fuel source you’d probably see people at the fuel pump station fueling themselves up rather than the car, unless you were to add some sort of toxin to the supply of ethanol to be used for fuel that would render it not for human consumption.  Making the leftovers into propanol or butanol would make better sense because those aren’t drinking alcohols and so no toxin would be needed.  Those alcohols are toxic enough on their own for human consumption.  Crude oil is also used as a source of large hydrocarbons that get sent to a hydrocarbon cracking station to make propene molecules, which are then hydrolized to make isopropyl alcohol, a popular first aid item.  Algae could be easily substituted here as the oil source.

Algae also has another advantage.  Unlike most land-based crops, algae grows much more rapidly.  I imagine you could have a crop of algae ready for use in much less time than a crop of corn.  Also, you could have 2 different types of algae crops going: one with high lipid content for use in oil production and another with high carbohydrate content which could be fermented into whichever alcohol you think could be better used as a fuel.  Or you could have a third crop to ferment into ethanol and sell it as moonshine….LOL!

So, could algae be our best bet as an economically viable and environmentally friendly source of fuel for our automobiles?  You decide!  As always my comment board is open.