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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Law of Unintended Consequences

Compact florescent light bulbs (CFL) use less energy and so they will save the environment, won’t they? Not according to this article. Using CFLs will actually increase the production of that nasty stuff called CO2.

Read all about it.

Congress has foisted its CFL dictates on us because we would never know better ourselves. Murphy’s Law has special application to do-gooders such as the Congress. The more well-intentioned a person is in behalf of everyone, the more the Law of Unintended Consequences kicks in.

4 comments:

brentandwendy said...

Who leaves all their lights on 24/7? (Besides teenagers who don't pay the bill!)
That is how the math in this article works out. The author tries to say that a significant amount of heat in our homes comes from incandescent bulbs, but that is just not the case.
Lets take real life and re-look at this given the same size of house and watts to heat that house.
First of all assuming you have 30 light bulbs in this house, you usually will not have all of them on at the same time. Lets say half are on at any given time. Now we are at 15 bulbs. No one I know leaves these 15 bulbs on 24/7. Even in the shortest of days you are at work at least 8 hours and asleep 8 hours (or should be) leaving only a maximum of 8 hours the lights would be on in a day.
Also important is that not all 100 watts is given off as heat. These are light bulbs not heaters. About 90% of the light bulb wattage is lost to heat. So a 100 watt light gives off 90 watts worth of heat.
Now let's redo the calculations with this real world example.
No longer does 17% of our heat come from our lights, but 2.6%. That is a significant difference!
Now since the new 23 watt (average 100 watt replacement) CFL is 77% more efficient you have a net gain of 75.4% overall efficiency when you factor in the 2.6% for heat lost from the change.
Not exactly the same as what the author would like you to believe. But don't just blindly believe me; do the math your self.

Also the author claims that because we will be using so much more fuel to heat our homes that we will be polluting more. Not so!
(As a preface I will more than happy to provide the resources for my numbers in the below calculations.)
According to the MN Department of Commerce the average MN home uses 100 million btus (Mbtu) of fuel to heat their home annually. The US Dept. of Energy claims that using natural gas as our heat source creates 30.4 pound of carbon emissions per Mbtu. So the average home in MN generates 30,423 lbs of CO2 every year.
The electricity for our lights generates on MN average 1.5lbs per kilowatt (kw). If we leave all of the above mentioned 15 lights on 8 hours a day for 365 days we use 4,380kw for our standard 100w incandescent and 1,007kw for our 23w CFL. This translates to 6,570lbs and 1,510lbs respectively per year.
If our home heating needs do really increase by 2.6% because of the switch we will generate 791lbs more CO2 in heating. But you notice that we reduced our electric based CO2 emissions by 5,060lbs a year. This gives us a net CO2 reduction of 4,269lbs a year!
This is a far cry from the 1,000lbs more a year the author is claiming in his article.
Even if we only have the lights on during the heating months (6) we still generate 1,739lbs less CO2 per year.

If you are going to try to make a point with dazzling “data” make sure your numbers are right and are based in the real world!

I think the point the author is trying to make is about the government "telling" us what to do. Which is a good point. Personally I do think that increasing the efficiency of light bulbs is a good idea. Who doesn’t want to save money! However, should the government push it to this end? That I don't know. Personally it will create hardships for our church as this new energy bill will cost us more in retrofits than it saves us. At this point there will be no saving for us for many years to come. So I do agree that this is not a magical cure.
As a point of information the new energy bill doesn't outright do away with the incandescent bulb. It sets standards of increased efficiency of lights bulbs by 2012. Light bulbs will need to start to be 25%-30% more efficient than standard incandescents. By 2020 the efficiency needs to rise to 70%. Given that CFLs are at least 70% more efficient, the move to these seems logical but does not rule out increasing incandescent efficiency or working with other lights. Halogens are more efficient light producers along with emerging LED technology. Just FYI.

One final comment is that as conservatives we need to always be critical thinkers! Even if the information is from another conservative we need to able to back up their information and look at it with an analytical eye. Never believe anything anyone tells you until you can verify it yourself or independently!!

Elephant Herd said...

Would you provide the links to the information that you used in your post? I would appreciate that so I can investigate it myself.

I agree wholeheartedly with your advice in your last paragraph. We conservatives should not be like the liberals who frequently assert misinformation, disinformation and even known lies to aid their cause. When caught, they have no intention of correcting it.

Since we conservatives are after truth, we should follow your advice. To that end, I suggest you contact Andrew Longman, the author of the article, to adjust his thinking. As of this posting, there are not any comments on his article.

Thank you for stopping by and taking the considerable time to post your comment. You are welcome to contribute any day.

brentandwendy said...

Hello!
Sorry I haven't gotten you the sources I used in my response! Life got out of control here so I haven't had a chance to respond.
Also I realize I made some errors in calculations which I will correct.
Thanks!

brentandwendy said...

Sorry again for the delay in response to your earlier request for my references that I used. Life has settled down a bit for our family and so here goes.

As for my references.
In the area where I discuss how much the light bulb contributes to the heat, there are no references other than I did confirm that the standard is 10 watts of electric heat per square foot of house. That is easily Google-able (making up my own words!). The 90 watts given off as heat I also found with Google, and was also confirmed later with an electrician. The majority of this discussion was the emphasis of basing this in the real world not the unrealistic all lights on 24 hours a day.
The second part does rely on data I looked up. Here are the references:
(1) http://www.state.mn.us/mn/externalDocs/Commerce/Home_Heating_110802040719_Heating.pdf
(2) http://www.eere.energy.gov/buildings/appliance_standards/residential/pdfs/k-2.pdf
(3) http://www.eia.doe.gov/oiaf/1605/e-factor.html
(4) http://www.physics.uci.edu/~silverma/units.html
(5) http://www.energyideas.org/default.cfm?o=h,g,ds&c=z,z,3912
(6) http://www.epa.gov/cleanenergy/energy-resources/calculator.html
(7) http://tonto.eia.doe.gov/dnav/ng/ng_pri_sum_a_EPG0_PRS_DMcf_m.htm
(8) http://www.eia.doe.gov/cneaf/electricity/epm/table5_6_b.html
(9) http://www.walmart.com/catalog/catalog.gsp?cat=561674&fromPageCatId=133113&catNavId=133113


Upon re-analysis I have found that I have made some errors!! I apologize and here are the corrections.
I re-looked at the electricity needed to heat an average MN home and it is 293,000kW per year, not necessarily the 10 watts per square foot (1). Based on that and the fact that the incandescent lights in question contribute 3,942 kW of heat annually (8 hours a day 365 days) we now have only 1.3% of our heat coming from incandescent lights instead of the 2.6% I came up with earlier. Considering we only need to heat our homes for a max of 7 months (mid Oct-mid May in MN) lights would only contribute .78% of the annual heat.
Again a far cry from the 17% percent Mr. Longman is claiming.
I also goofed in the second part of the discussion and had some incorrectly used resources (2) and did the math wrong anyway.
Based upon the new sources I found, we generate 117lbs of CO2 per Mbtu of energy from natural gas (4,5,6). Since the majority of homes utilize natural gas as their heat source we will stick with this.
Given this information and that it takes 100 Mbtus a year in MN (1), we generate 11,700lbs of CO2 annually for heating here (1,4), not the 30423 lbs/year that I came up with earlier.
This then changes how much more CO2 we generate via the furnace by switching to CFLs. It is only 152lbs more not 791lbs if our old lights contributed 1.3% year! Our switch to 23 watt CFLs result in a reduction of 3,373kW a year! This results in a CO2 reduction of 5,060lbs/year based on 1.5lbs CO2 produced for every kW(3). Which changes our emissions to a net reduction of 4907lbs/year. Again considering the lights only contribute 7 months of the year (0.78%), our switch to CFLs only increases our heating CO2 contribution by 91lbs/year and we have a net reduction of 4968lbs/year. Even better!!
Sorry for these errors!

In summary the switch to CFLs still has a CO2 reduction of 4,907lbs per year even if we leave the 15 CFLs on 8 hours a day 365 days a year. Even if you look at the "cleanest" electrical producing states (.03lbs CO2/kW), you still reduce your emissions by at least 79lbs/year. No where near the 1,000lbs extra a year Mr. Longman states!!!
Next time Mr. Longman writes an article, he better do more research!
Plus lets not forget about the money here! The cost to heat a home with 100Mbtus/year cost us $1,042 (7) and getting rid of our old lights increases that to $1,050/year. But the reduction in 3,373kW a year saves us $310/year in electric costs (8). So we have an overall savings of $302 per year!! Makes one think economically alone that the switch makes sense! Even at around $2.50 a bulb (9), those 15 lights pay for themselves in month and a half!
All this research has lead me, a CFL hold out, to seriously consider switching my heavily used lights to CFLs just for the overall cost savings to me.
You are right that I should post a comment to Mr. Longman in regards to his article. That will be on my list.
Thanks again for reading my long replies and letting me comment here!!

Brent