What about the non-monetary value of CFLs?

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In response to some great feedback, I’d like to address the non-monetary aspect of energy efficiency steps like CFL replacement. There are compelling non-monetary cases for pursuing energy efficiency. Efficiency can be justified by any number of valid reasons like: combatting climate change, increasing energy independence, protecting land from mining or drilling, human / plant / animal health, etc. While I believe whole-heartedly in the good intentions of these justifications, I find them difficult to quantify and objectively assess. For that reason I have chosen to evaluate home efficiency improvements in dollars and cents, with the understanding that these dollars and cents will continue to align more and more with positive environmental impact (as energy prices rise, technology advances, carbon markets discourage waste…).

In the case of Compact Fluorescent Light bulbs (CFLs), for instance, one can quantify cost and energy usage pretty easily.Total environmental impact, however, is not so straightforward.One question for which I have yet to find a satisfactory answer is: “How much energy does it take to make and deliver a CFL when compared to an incandescent bulb?”Based on the complexity of the CFL, I’m willing to bet that the fabrication is much more energy intensive.But maybe CFL factories, by virtue of their newness, are more efficient factories.What’s more, how about disposal?We can throw our incandescent bulbs in the garbage. CFLs require special disposal treatment (due to mercury content). This special disposal suggests that further energy must be expended to transport and properly disassemble CFLs… granted, since they last so long this disposal is infrequent.

What’s a consumer to do? To the disposal question, we can take some comfort in the fact that CFL makers include disposal cost in their bulb pricing. To the fabrication and transportation energy questions, CFL makers must account for these costs in the price too. This brings me back to dollars and cents. In my opinion, technology, market and political forces will continue to drive us toward a future in which environmental thinking and smart financial thinking align. If not, we will never see green become mainstream. In this blog I intend to present the areas of technology where the “green” in green living means fiscally responsible AND environmentally friendly energy use.

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